After a character-building win over the Pistons on Sunday, and with a much-needed day off behind them, the Knicks take the floor tonight in the Second City to take on the Chicago Bulls. No public entity has brought as much shame and disappointment into my life as the Chicago Bulls. During my formative hoops-watching years, they were the team that could not be overcome. Patrick Ewing was Sisyphus and the Bulls were guarding the mountaintop. It pains me even to type about it still.
As (is now) per usual, I've been trading emails today with a blogger who covers the Knicks' opponent. Below you'll find a back-and-forth with noted Bulls blog Bull Riding. We talk about the wonder that is Derrick Rose and I try to get a straight answer on the Jo Jo English incident from 1994.
WWOD?: At WWOD?, the love for Derrick Rose has been effusive to the point awkwardness. Nine months ago I wanted nothing more on this earth than to have him playing 41 home games at Madison Square Garden. But, you can't always get what you want. And, I didn't. In fact, I got Chris Duhon. But, Rose is as good as you could have hoped for, right? Or, is he better? What was the first moment when you just KNEW he was the real deal at the NBA level?
Bull Riding: I knew Rose could be a very special player since seeing him at Simeon his junior year. I was actually pushing for us to somehow get him before the ping-pong balls fell our way. I felt they would bring him along slowly at first because of their commitment to Kirk Hinrich, but he has come in and taken that spot and is almost the unquestioned leader on this team.
I knew he would be good once he was part of the USA select team. Practicing against Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Kobe, LeBron etc, is going to make you a better player because of the level those guys are at. You also have the 30 point game against Dallas this preseason and you see all his abilities on full display. We have a special talent here in Rose and now it's about surrounding him with the right talent.
WWOD?: Before Mike D'Antoni was coaching the Knicks it looked like he might be coaching the Bulls. What is the view from the Windy City on the way that went down?
BR: The initial feeling was that the Bulls let another opportunity slip away. D'Antoni wanted to coach here and it's scary to think of Rose's averages in that system, but you also have to consider that D'Antoni is an offense oriented coach and he loves using a 7-8 man rotation. Watching the Bulls score over 106 points a night would be very entertaining but if you're John Paxson, watching the opposing team get over 100 every night would be a problem and with the depth we have, a 7-8 man rotation wouldn't sit well with some.
WWOD?: As someone who doesn't get a chance to see the Bulls play too often, what under-the-radar player(s) should I keep an eye on tonight?
BR: Andres Nocioni and Tyrus Thomas. I consider them wildcards. When Nocioni is playing under control and letting the game come to him, he can give you 20 points and 6 rebounds easily, but too many times this season, I have seen him force the issue, but with the way the Knicks run, I expect him to play well. Thomas minutes have been inconsistent and this has led to him forcing things once he's on the floor. He played 6 minutes the last game and his confidence seems to have taken a hit. A game that is in this type of tempo fits his style and I expect him to see some significant minutes. What he does with them is up to him.
WWOD?: Lately, there has been a flurry of Jordan-almost-went-to-the-Knicks stories, how do you recall those events? Personally, I never ever thought it was a real possibility and find the latest accounts a bit revisionist. You?
BR: I haven't heard all the stories, but personally, I believe there is some truth to them. Mike never really saw eye-to-eye with Jerry Krause. He was upset when they kept his minutes limited after he came back from his broken foot, he was angry when they traded Oakley for Bill Cartwright-even though that got them over the hump against Detroit- and the way they handled business with Scottie and Phil Jackson led to the destruction of a team that could have won 3-4 more titles.
Considering what Jordan meant to not only the game, but the world, I believe he was underpaid and undervalued in a sense by Krause. It's no secret Jordan loved the bright lights of NY and it's also his birth place. Just imagine what Nike could have done with Mike being in New York.
WWOD?: What's up with Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, et. al? Two seasons ago Deng played in 82 games and averaged a shade under 19 points. Gordon, meanwhile, was hitting buzzer beaters at the Garden and emerging as one of the more ice-veined scoring guards in the game. Is their seeming malaise just perceived because the team as a whole disappointed last season or is it more real and troubling to Bulls fans?
BR: Gordon and Deng are two very talented players. When Gordon was going off in fourth quarters and Deng was averaging around 19ppg, teams took notice and adjusted. Gordon is being trapped more and it's not as easy to get to the rim anymore so he has to depend on his shooting.
Deng has had injuries that have set him back, but I believe playing with Rose makes life easier for the both of them and they'll find a lot more opportunities instead of having to go one-on-one whenever they receive the ball.
WWOD?: Did Aaron Gray somehow become a more promising Big Man prospect than Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas?
BR: Well what the Bulls are looking for is consistency and production. Gray isn't going to get a lot of touches but you are going to feel the screens he sets and he is big enough to hold his own under the rim. If he can give them 8-10 boards a game, it helps Drew Gooden rebounding numbers and Gray is the only one between Thomas and Noah, who has some post moves.
WWOD?: Since over a decade has passed, can you finally admit that Phil Jackson sent third-stringer Jo Jo English onto the court during the 1994 playoffs just to start a fight with Derek Harper?
BR: (Laughs) I still can't admit that. Phil is one of the best coaches in the game and is probably the best at understanding the psyche of players. He knows that physical talent is no replacement for mental toughness and I believe he put in a player who he knew would get under Harper's skin.
WWOD?: Both the Knicks and the Bulls are 9-11 entering tonight's game. We all know the Knicks are rebuilding and looking to the free agent class of 2010, but what are the Bulls doing? What is their plan?
BR: I believe the Bulls have to find a philosophy and establish an identity. I believe that we are a piece or two away from returning back to prominence. As everyone knows, addressing the front court issues will be key, there are some players like, Paul Milsap, Carlos Boozer, that they should look at this season.
2010 is a long way away and anything could happen but Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh will be available and I believe we can get anyone of those guys but it comes down to Mr. Reinsdorf wanting to spend the money.
My thoughts on what the Knicks are doing; while they can sign 2-3 great players, it will be what they do now to improve themselves to make the situation more assuring. Money is important but LeBron isn't at a thirst for it, he knows his legacy will be left by Wins and championships and currently the Knicks are lacking in some of the areas his current Cavs teams are thriving (rebounding and defense) and how does D'Antoni with his style make those free agents feel when they know the importance of defense and knowing he plays his star players 40+ minutes every night?
WWOD?: And, what makes THIS season a success for Chicago?
BR: This season can be deemed a success if the Bulls can get better as a team. The ones who learn to play with Rose will be around and the ones who haven't will be gone because I believe that Paxson is already formulating plans on what guys he could try to bring in to better this team.
The Bulls are a .500 team in terms of their play, but they could be a lot better. Everyone is learning a new system and learning to play a different style with Rose running the show. I believe by mid-season we'll start seeing their best ball.
WWOD?: Lastly, Mr. Charles Oakley was a member of the Bulls before the Knicks traded for him. What, if any, are the lasting impressions of Oak in the Second City?
BR: Chicago loves Charles Oakley. Like New York, we respect a player who plays hard and physical everytime he takes the court.
One of his proteges, Ben Wallace is now a Cavalier and with that loss, the Bulls lost a certain toughness in the front court that hasn't been replicated by any current Bulls big. Every team would love to have a guy like Oakley.
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