On the morning of April 28, 2012, the prospects of Derrick Rose and the Bulls looked limitless.
Rose reigned as the youngest most valuable player in NBA history, with a Rookie of the Year award and three All-Star selections in his rearview mirror since the Bulls used the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 to draft the homegrown product. The Bulls were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the second straight season.
Rose tore the ACL in his left knee that afternoon. Surgeries to repair torn right menisci followed in November 2013 and February 2015.
It may be simplistic to say Rose’s left ACL tear serves as the delineation for the too-good-to-be-true ascension for Rose and his subsequent falling out of favor. But it’s true.
Rose’s tenure playing in his hometown ended Wednesday with the stunning news that the Bulls traded him to the Knicks along with Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick for center Robin Lopez and guards Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon.
And add another nail to the closing of the Bulls’ championship window. Rose joined principals like Luol Deng and Tom Thibodeau in leaving after one of the most successful eras in franchise history, one that crashed and burned with last season’s non-playoff season. That marked the first time the Bulls missed the postseason since the season before Rose, the pride of Simeon Career Academy, arrived.
“Through injuries and age, we felt that window was coming to a close,” general manager Gar Forman said at an Advocate Center news conference. “A year ago, I think you could start to see signs it was coming to a close. But we didn’t have a lot of flexibility and wanted to give the group the year to see where we could go.
“We need to get younger and more athletic. We feel it’s the first step in that direction.”
The next step comes Thursday, when the Bulls own the 14th and 48th picks in the NBA draft. The Bulls have been eyeing athletic guards through most of their draft preparation.
Then comes July free agency, where the Bulls could have $25 million to spend. Lopez’s arrival all but ensures the departures of free-agent centers Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, both of whom, coincidentally, will be pursued by the Knicks. Noah, whom Forman said the Bulls will still pursue, also has been linked to the Lakers and Timberwolves.
Forman stating in the wake of the trade that the Bulls needed to get younger and more athletic would’ve been a comment that defied logic before April 2012. The Bulls drafted Rose at age 19. His speed and strength filled highlight reels and arenas.
“Derrick obviously has meant quite a bit to this team, this organization and this city,” Forman said. “We want to thank him. … Derrick’s going to have a very good year. We’re all very confident of that. But we had to make a decision we felt was best for us moving forward.”
That’s because the Bulls had received strong signals that Rose would be open to testing free agency in 2017 and likely to leave his hometown, sources said. Rose, in the final season of a deal that will pay him $21.3 million this season, will again be seeking maximum dollars.
Instead, in a deal Forman called “a retool rather than a rebuild,” the Bulls proactively tried to get some return for Rose, clearly the best player in the trade. Sources said other exploratory talks led to teams asking the Bulls to include a future first-round pick to take on Rose’s contract, knowing he could walk in free agency next summer.
When Forman called Rose on Wednesday to inform him of the deal, he said he got Rose’s voicemail and instead talked to Rose’s agent, former Bull B.J. Armstrong. This continued a trend of little communication between Rose and the Bulls since the season ended.
While Rose had no personal issues with Jimmy Butler, the two struggled to find consistent chemistry on the court. And both played as if they were the team’s best player, creating divisions within the locker room.
Forman said discussions with the Knicks and President Phil Jackson centering on Rose began “a couple weeks” ago.
In Lopez, 28, the Bulls acquired a rim protector and serviceable center who projects to be the starter. The eight-year veteran averaged 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while starting all 82 games last season, in which he finished ninth in the league with 53.9 percent shooting and second in offensive rebounds.
The three years and roughly $41 million left on Lopez’s deal with eat into next summer’s cap space, when the Bulls projected to have enough to offer two maximum salaries. But Forman said he liked the “cost certainty” in an age of a dramatically rising salary cap.
“This wasn’t a financial deal,” Forman said. “This was a basketball deal. We like the players that are coming back to us. Free agency this summer will be so unpredictable because of the spike in the cap. I don’t think anybody knows what to expect.
“We feel Lopez is a very, very solid center who is a rebounder, defender and can run the floor. He has high makeup and character and we feel is a real fit.”
Forman confirmed the Bulls would have seriously considered drafting Grant last year had he fallen to them at No. 22. Though he’s not a great outside shooter, last year’s 19th overall pick and nephew of former Bull Horace Grant showed ability to get to the basket while averaging 5.6 points in 76 games.
He’s also on a rookie-scale contract for at least three more seasons.
“We think he’s a fit getting younger and more athletic,” Forman said. “We think he’s good in transition and a good pick-and-roll player. In our minds, it’s like getting another first-round pick. But we’re getting it after he’s been in the league for a year.”
Calderon, 34, is a widely respected veteran whose most productive playing days are behind him. But he owns an expiring $7.7 million deal and has been a positive and strong locker room presence throughout his 11-year career. And he still averaged 7.6 points and 4.2 assists in 28 minutes over 72 starts while shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range last season.
“He’s somebody who’s going to bring professionalism, energy to the floor and is going to be great in the locker room,” Forman said. “He can shoot, run a team.”
So can Butler, who now clearly has the keys to the kingdom. Forman downplayed issues between Rose and Butler as a factor in the trade.
“I think John Paxson said that (April) night the only player that he’s been around that was totally untradeable was Michael Jordan,” Forman said. “It’s our job to listen to different scenarios and make decisions. But obviously we value Jimmy and we think he fits in the direction we’re headed.”
Indeed, the two-time All-Star is now clearly the franchise centerpiece, a position long held by Rose, until an injury changed the trajectory of his career and, ultimately, the direction of the franchise.
©2016 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
GRAPHIC (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):