By Sam Smith | 9.29.2015 | 11:05 a.m.
It felt and sounded a lot like 2010 and 2011 Monday for the Bulls as they began training camp for the new season.
There was a new coach getting his first NBA head coaching opportunity and thrilled about it. There was Taj Gibson talking about his ankle—he said he hopes to play the season opener Oct. 27 against Cleveland–which Gibson first hurt in the 2010-11 season. There was assistant Pete Myers joking with players. There was Joakim Noah feeling better after surgery, that time on his right thumb. There was Derrick Rose talking about free agency, this time his—he’ll be a free agent in two years and said he wants to return “here,” meaning Chicago—and not LeBron James’.
Though, the best news for the Bulls coming into the 2015-16 season, with twice-a-day practices commencing Tuesday, was Rose wasn’t asked a single question about his health.
Dunleavy was, Gibson was, Noah was. Pau Gasol was sort of given a heavy playing schedule in the Eurobasket tournament earlier this month.
But the story and the concern that has shadowed the Bulls since Rose’s awful ACL tear in April 2012 and was the dominant issue every season since was never mentioned.
“Derrick’s in a great place,” said Bulls general manager Gar Forman. “He seems like he’s in a great place and ready to attack the season. He’s attacked his training at a high level. When you see him, you can even see physically how good he looks. But watching him work out, watching him play, and then listening to how motivated he is, I think sometimes we forget when you have to go through three or four summers of rehab, and then he gets the opportunity to do what he loves and train all summer, it’s been a real positive.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be media day for the Bulls without the focus and story being on the star player.
It’s a team tradition from Michael Jordan’s gambling hiatus in 1991 to Jordan even skipping media day in 1998 as then general manager Jerry Krause waxed uncomfortably about how organizations win championships. Actually, Krause was right about it taking a village, but as they sometimes say, why let the facts mess up a good story.
The media Monday was prepared to pounce on Rose about the civil suit by an ex-girlfriend filed this past summer alleging Rose and associates assaulted her. I nor anyone else in the media knows the facts. But let’s make a distinction about a civil suit, which is little more than a legal food fight. Not to say the Chicago Blackhawks player is guilty of anything, but that is a criminal case being investigated by law enforcement. Rose’s issue is a civil suit, legally little more than the complaints filed in a messy divorce, a property dispute or personal injury car accident.
Rose, who returned from summer workouts with more hair below his chin and atop his head and seemingly in good spirits as he spoke alongside Noah and Dunleavy, didn’t back away from his beliefs about the accusations.
“I think you all saw everything that was put out,” Rose told reporters. “I will be proven innocent. But at the same time, it hasn’t affected anything. It’s not true. I take it as motivation. I feel like the devil is just working. I feel like I’m on the right track as far as where I want to be at in my life, and the direction I want to go. And I just feel like that when you’re that focused people just try and take you down. So I’m very confident that I will be proven innocent.
“The story was false,” emphasized Rose. “I don’t think I have to alter anything. I live my life the way I live my life. I live in the moment, and I enjoy life. I can’t let that one incident that’s not true affect the way that I live, and I’m not going to let it. I love my life, actually, so I can’t complain about anything. I just got to take this, use it as fuel, and the season is around the corner.’
“You have to be very careful,” Rose added. “I think anybody in my position, my case, I think it scared everybody in the league, probably. If not, I hope it got everybody’s attention. The only thing you can do now is just learn from it. This whole summer I had tunnel vision. My mindset was just making sure that I was working out every day, spending as much time as possible with my son. Making sure my family is financially stable, as far as seeing all the money that they’re passing out in this league. Just telling the truth. Just knowing that my day will be coming up soon, and it’s not for me. It’s for P.J. and his future, so that’s what I’m thinking about now.’’
That led to a follow up about whether Rose was alluding to free agency, which for him is after the 2016-17 season
“Yeah. I’m preparing for it,” Rose responded.
Which was a surprise, in a sense, since the subject had not come up before with Rose.
“Here, here, it’s here,” Rose added about his preferred free agency destination being Chicago if it comes to that. “When you talk about that much money, the only thing you can do is prepare for it. I’m trying to prepare, not only myself, but my family. Even though we’re alright, we’re comfortable, when you talk about that x-amount of dollars, I think it raises everyone’s eyebrows. So there’s nothing wrong with being over-prepared.’’
Obviously, there is nothing imminent regarding Rose. The biggest free agency discussion for the Bulls, assuming it occurs, will be about Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. Noah’s contract expires after this season and Gasol has an opt out clause to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. But more than anything, free agency has become routine in the NBA. LeBron James now signs one year contracts to maintain his options annually. Kevin Durant’s free agency is the story of next summer and he hasn’t committed to Oklahoma City. Dwyane Wade even threatened becoming a free agent last summer. With the salary cap expected to increase 50 percent by 2017 and with some rumors the players union will push for an end to salary ceilings perhaps in 2017, basically every major star in the NBA is aiming at 2017 and 2018 free agency.
It’s the new normal.
Yes, some will say Rose owes the Bulls for all the games he’s missed since the 2012 injury. But let’s go back a bit: Here’s a worker injured on the job, injured actually, after not playing in 17 of the last 22 games of that regular season because of seven different injuries. Rose, to his credit, has faulted himself for that injury even though it was a fluke by saying he never worked hard enough on physical conditioning for his lower body, which he’s changed. But what would anyone say about any employer who wants to punish a worker for getting hurt at work?
It would hardly make that place a free agent destination.
So it was no surprise Forman said the organization was with Rose.
“Derrick’s part of our family. Derrick has our full support,” said Forman “I know he’s got the full support of all his teammates, too. Like I talked about earlier, he’s in a really good place physically and mentally. I think his focus, just like his teammates’ focus, is on getting started tomorrow and getting preseason camp started and just having a really good, productive season. We’re excited.”
There was injury talk, of course, as it is the Bulls.
Dunleavy, who recently had back surgery, indicated he will take his time and make sure he’s fully healthy before a return.
“Obviously, I was disappointed to have to get this surgery on Friday,” said Dunleavy. “As far as a timeframe, I think they released to you guys eight to 10 weeks. I really don’t have a timeframe on it. I’m coming back when I feel good enough. Hopefully, that will be this season. But I’m not looking at it week-by-week or anything like that. It’s going to be a process. I can’t skip the steps. I have to listen to what these guys say, follow through all that. I’ll be back when I’ll be back.’’
Everyone was taken aback about Dunleavy alluding to perhaps being lost for the season. But it was clear he was merely emphasizing he didn’t have any fixed return date.
“I don’t have a set amount of time in my head that I want to get back,” Dunleavy said. “I haven’t broken out the schedule and said, ‘OK, eight weeks from this Friday is this game, I want to be back for this game.’ You just can’t do it that way. We’ve gone over kind of a general schedule. It starts off with kind of doing nothing for a while, unfortunately, so I’ve got to take my time with it. There’s an issue of recurrence with these types of things, so it’s just all about being safe about it, taking the proper steps and hopefully being back sooner than later. But to put an absolute date on it, if I’m not back in 8-to-10 weeks it’s not going to be the end of the world.’’
Gibson seemed still to have a bit of a limp, and coach Fred Hoiberg said Gibson probably wouldn’t be in both daily practice sessions, but would practice.
“I’ve been feeling good the last couple weeks,” said Gibson. “It’s about getting back into game shape. I haven’t really been able to run for three months. So these last couple weeks have been really tough. It’s been a learning process, and I’m taking it slow.”
Though there’s also getting up to speed with the new coach.
“I think it’s going to be a little adjustment,” said Noah of playing for Hoiberg. “We’ve been with Thibs (Tom Thibodeau five years) for a long time. But we’re really looking forward to the new challenge. It’s a new system, new philosophy, and I’m just coming into camp with an open mind. Just ready. I really have nothing bad to say about Thibs. I think that we had a lot of success under him. We’ve all grown as players, we’ve all experienced a lot, but this is a new chapter for the Bulls and I just wanted to come as ready as possible. I’m just excited for this new chapter.’’
Added Rose: “It’s going to be a little adjustment, but it should be challenging and fun at the same time. We know that we love playing basketball. Being under Thibs system for so long, now there’s a new vibe to the team, a new coach. He brings something new to the table where he’s more relaxed. I think that the players should appreciate that more, I think we should appreciate that more.’’
The Bulls can only hope for a repeat of 2010 and 2011.