Only 18 games into the 2009-10 season, the Bulls appear to have a few significant team needs. These include: an inside scoring threat, a few high percentage three-point marksman (or even one would help), a shooting coach to work with John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, a beefy frontcourt player who can push big men out of the paint and help Joakim Noah protect the defensive backboards, a fountain of youth for Brad Miller (who seems to be experiencing an accelerated aging process), an open lane or two for Derrick Rose to drive through (the three-point shooters would help facilitate this need), and a few more healthy bodies.
And while we’re asking the Wizard of Oz for all that, maybe he’ll throw in a brain, a heart, some courage and a pair of ruby high tops too.
Basically, the Bulls have personnel issues. They, as it turns out, are a poorly constructed team. That would be the case even if Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas were healthy. The Ty Thomas for Al Harrington trade rumors seem to be a concession by Chicago management that the team — as presently constructed — has (to put it nicely) a talent deficit.
But what would provide some immediate help is a certified team leader. Good teams, or even slightly above-average teams that manage to stay competitive, usually have an alpha dog. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant. The Cavaliers have LeBron James. The Spurs (although they’ve been struggling) have Tim Duncan. The Celtics have an alpha dog on offense (Paul Pierce) anddefense (Kevin Garnett). The Nuggets have an alpha scorer (Carmelo Anthony) and an alpha playmaker (Chauncey Billups). The Suns have Steve Nash. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki. The Heat have Dwyane Wade. So on and so forth.
The Bulls have nobody to fill that role. And, frankly, they haven’t had a true alpha dog since Michael Jordan retired. That’s actually why John Paxson vastly overpaid to steal Ben Wallace from the Detroit Pistons. Right team, wrong alpha dog. (Chauncey Billups, as the Nuggets found out, was the conductor of that gravy train.) Ben Gordon was as close as it got — although he didn’t have the all-around skills and/or the necessary defensive chops necessary to be a true alpha — but he’s long gone now.
In theory, Derrick Rose should be that guy. He’s a former number one overall draft pick and Chicago’s franchise player. And which Gordon playing ball a state away, Rose was expected to become the new team leader/go-to guy. It hasn’t happened yet…and you wonder when and if it ever will. Obviously, the kid has a long, long career ahead of him, so I haven’t exactly given up hope that his inner alpha dog will come bursting and barking out of its shell.
However, I can’t help but wonder…doesn’t Rose seem like too nice, to laid back, maybe even too passive to be that guy? His talent is clearly off the charts. Physically, there isn’t anything he shouldn’t be able to do with a little time and effort. But most players display the requisite alpha qualities — that grit, that desire, that killer instinct, that willingness to pull his own team up by the bootstraps while simultaneously putting his foot on the opposing team’s throat — almost immediately or not at all.
Derrick is barely into his sophomore season. He still has a chance. But it has to start soon. Not to go all Obi Wan Kenobi, but that boy is our last hope among the current players. If Luol Deng or Hinrich had it in them, things would have gone very differently over the last five seasons. John Salmons is a role player. Joakim Noah has the intensity and desire, but he lacks the presence and all-around skill set. Asking Brad Miller to go alpha would be like asking lead to turn itself into gold.
At any rate, this is something worth thinking about as the season progresses. Because if Rose doesn’t start to show some alpha dog tendencies, it should have a drastic impact on who the Bulls go after during next summer’s free agent bonanza. (Or at this season’s trade deadline if the Bulls are searching for a mega-deal.) Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that the team’s primary need is a frontcourt scorer like Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer. But while an acquisition of that nature would fill a gaping hole, it would still (as far as we can currently tell) leave the team leaderless.
Wouldn’t that make somebody like, say, Dwyane Wade a better target?
Of course, that would change if Rose steps it up and marks his territory. And if that happens, the Bulls will become better immediately. Not a contender, maybe, but a challenging, competitive, more exciting team.