The NBA is a bizarre world. If you’re not staring down from the top of the mountain and your momentum has paused, there’s a counterintuitive yet tangible incentive to hit rock bottom.
In the real world, the equivalent would be quitting your job, spending all your cash on chips in Vegas or the nearest Indian casino, burning your house down so it looks like an accident and hoping karma rewards you with a purchase of the winning lotto numbers with your last dollars.
Most franchises spend the summer, or multiple summers in the Knicks' case, plotting out their nefarious strategies to rig the lottery by tanking the season. Some have had their plans sabotaged from the inside by industrious rookies (Michael Carter-Williams in Philadelphia), tradeable assets who suddenly began showing signs of life just when their respective franchises were discussing pulling the plug (Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner) and a star-turn for a point guard who hadn’t been given a leading role since high school (Eric Bledsoe).
The last time Chicago burned down, it re-emerged from the ash as a vibrant metropolis. The Bulls are simply applying an arsonist’s philosophy to their roster.
The Bulls’ epiphany came during an electric November night inside the bowels of the United Center on the night during the second half of a college basketball doubleheader.
Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer organized the team to cram into the arena that night, and it wasn't for one of those symbolic players-only meetings. Rose took his three Duke teammates to watch their alma mater and to watch them marvel at the abilities of the 6-8 phenom who followed in his hollowed footsteps at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy. Coach Tom Thibodeau, Taj Gibson and backup point guard Marquis Teague also tagged along. Andrew Wiggins showed up too.
What they witnessed was the most complete offensive arsenal displayed from a freshman since Kevin Durant was stuffing the hoop with buckets like Michael Beasley was stuffing kush into blunts.
Rose was never interested in pitching to LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh or Dwight Howard, but he gushed about Parker.
"I'm watching him, man," Rose said with what appeared to be a rare grin sprinkled on his normally stoic face last Tuesday. It was almost as if he knew something the rest of us didn’t. "He's doing what he's supposed to do. I'm just happy that he's taking shots and putting the team on his back, and I'm happy for him. I think it's going to help him in the league. He's not the type of player where he wants to shoot a lot of shots, but on that team he has to. So when he gets to the league it's going to help him out a lot."
Rose and pretty much every All-Star has to be jealous of the Indiana Pacers’ youth as well.
The Bulls have scoured the market for perimeter playmaking scorers for years, and this season they’re second-to-last in effective field goal percentage. This upcoming summer, Luol Deng is a free agent and the two sides appear to have retreated to their respective corners for the time being. 32-year-old Carlos Boozer is on the bartering table.
Jerry Reinsdorf is notorious for never paying the luxury tax, and on a rookie contract Parker or any top-five pick would come at a bargain.
Basketball Reference's "Simple Rating System", which utilizes point differentials and strength of schedule to determine power rankings, has the Bulls listed at 21st out of 30 teams in the league.
The bench is inferior to the one they’ve had spell the starters for the last two seasons and the Bulls front office is reportedly giving Thibodeau directive about how often to rest players.
Outside of Chicago and Indiana, the entire Eastern Conference is fish tanking, and the 6-10 amphibian Boston Celtics are still in playoff contention despite drowning underneath .500.
That game wouldn't get everyone on board, but it wouldn't take long to change that. Priding himself on defensive intensity, Thibodeau wasn’t enamored with a Duke team that gave up 94 points with Parker at center. However against ECU on Nov. 19, Parker swatted six shots. The Bulls have gone 0-4 since then.
On Sunday, the Bulls lost by 41 to the Los Angeles Clippers. They even dropped a game to the 1-15 Utah Jazz the next day after Rose was ruled out for the rest of the season.
The question is, why would Rose sacrifice another season of his career? The 2013 class was so bland that it didn’t make much sense to tank. As a result, the Bulls’ gritty playoff push gives the franchise some cover.
Last February, Reggie Rose hinted at Derrick’s unhappiness with the makeup of the Bulls roster as it pertains to their championship potential.
"It's frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him," Reggie Rose griped to ESPNChicago.com last February.
During the offseason, the Bulls turned a blind eye to those concerns by watching Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson walk the plank.
In early November, Stephen A. Smith reiterated those concerns after a conversation with Reggie at a regular season game between the Knicks and Bulls on Oct. 31.
“You’re going to get to a point where enough is enough and you’re going to hear a lot of bantering about what the team needs,” Smith explained about Reggie and Derrick’s worries. “Derrick Rose doesn’t have that M.O., but his brother Reggie – who has tremendous influence over him – is unapologetic about the fact that he does, along with a lot of other people that Derrick Rose is close to.”
However, it appears Parker – or at the very least one of the draft’s top-six prospects (including Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Dante Exum) plus Nikola Mirotic, the best non-NBA player in the world currently – would be sufficient for Rose to mesh with on the floor next season.
Thibodeau’s players will run through a wall for their sideline general, but at this point, don't be surprised if the talent around Joakim Noah begins dissipating.