Making waves (again) in the Windy City
Sure, it brought the name recognition of guards Jalen Rose and Travis Best. But in order to get them here, the Bulls had to give up more than 50 percent of their scoring production. On top of that, it wasn't a guarantee that Rose and Best would even play hard for the Bulls.
After all, what was to say they wouldn't just come into Chicago sulking about the move from a playoff-contender to an NBA pretender, and just play out the string halfheartedly?
Well, Rose for one.
"Was I happy about coming to a last-place team?" he asked, shortly before taking the floor against the Knicks in his first game as a Bull. "Obviously, you never want to get traded to a last-place team. But I'm here now, and I want to try and do everything I can to help this team win."
That night, it required dropping 36 points on the struggling Knicks – 28 of which coming in the second half and 14 of those in the fourth quarter. He and Best led the Bulls to an exciting comeback that brought the United Center crowd of 19,303 to its feet in praise of their newest heroes in the home whites.
"It was nice to hear a crowd get so loud like that for a losing team," Rose said. "You can tell these are great fans. Their team's been one of the worst in the league for the past three years, but they're still coming out to watch their team.
"They're not front-runners like a lot of fans in other cities, who only come out and cheer when the team's winning. They want so bad for their team to be great again."
Yet, on the evening Rose was driving North up I-65 through a rainstorm from Indianapolis to Chicago, Bulls fans called into local talk-radio stations to voice their displeasure with the deal. They pointed to the fact the Bulls gave up four experienced players in exchange for two plus a throw-in for salary-cap purposes (Norm Richardson).
They also worried about giving up too much scoring from a team already struggling to score.
In order to complete the deal, the Bulls traded away Ron Mercer (16.8 ppg), Brad Miller (12.7 ppg), Kevin Ollie (5.8 ppg) and Ron Artest (15.6 ppg ) – a player whom His Airness himself, Michael Jordan, practically knighted following Jordan's first return to The United Center as a Wizard in January.
Mercer is still sidelined with a knee injury, but fans were still hesitant to let him go in the deal – especially when packaged with the likes of Artest and Miller.
But Bulls rookie center Eddy Curry sees it a different way. Where others saw a loss, he saw a new opportunity unfolding.
"To be honest with you, I think it was about time we made some changes," said Curry, the primary beneficiary of Miller's departure now that the 19-year-old is the team's starting center. "This is nothing against the guys we traded away – because they were all great guys – but we just weren't getting anywhere.
"This is what I've been groaning about all season – a chance to play more. Now I have to prove I'm worth it."
Right after he said that, Curry and fellow preps-to-pros rookie giant Tyson Chandler dropped a pair of double-doubles on the surprised Knicks – who got a heavy dose of the teenage duo. With Rose feeding them entry
So is the perennially underachieving power forward, Marcus Fizer – who scored 30 points in his first action alongside Rose.
"Just having him on the floor helps opens things up for the rest of us," Fizer said. "I think this is going to help a lot of people."
Rose and Best's arrival even sparked a mini-winning streak of three games – something that hasn't happened here in two years. That quickly erased any doubts most Bulls fans had about the deal. Now the talk is of adding to the new talent base in the off season and righting this ship which has gone so horribly awry since the departure of MJ and Scottie.
"He just took over the game down the stretch," guard Fred Hoiberg said of Rose's domination against the Knicks. "He was unstoppable, and it's been a long time since we've had somebody in here who's been able to do that in this building."
Unlike Jordan, though, Rose won't be able to single-handedly make the Bulls a playoff contender – despite the fact his arrival will allow him to blossom into the individual star he's always wanted to be. Rose is going to need more help, with some of it possibly coming through free agents his agent David Falk – also Jordan's agent – can persuade to play for the Bulls.
Whether or not Falk and Bulls vice president of player personnel Jerry Krause can mend their differences to get a couple of free agent deals done remains to be seen, though.
And in the meantime, Rose is content to work with what's already have in place – namely Curry and Chandler.
The Bulls' newest superstar likes what he sees in the 7-foot-1 Chandler, comparing him to a young Marcus Camby. But when asked about Curry, Rose's eyes get big and his cadence picks up a notch.
"Some guys get talked up a lot when they're coming out of high school or leaving college early," the 6-foot-8 Rose said of the Bulls' 6-foot-11, 290-pound manchild in the middle. "Then I get in the same room with 'em and I'm bigger than they are. It's all hype."
"When I walked in here (to the Bulls' locker room) today, though, that wasn't the case. I mean, just look at him over there. The guy's just big ol' wall. He's a human wall, man."
"He is Baby Shaq, and we've just got to keep working with him so that he develops into that kind of player."
When it comes to the big fellas, Rose should know what makes a good one.
As the floor general for the infamous "Fab Five" Michigan teams of the early 90s, Rose fed the post to the likes of Juwan Howard and Chris Webber. He knows where the large bodies need to receive the ball in the post, and the results were obvious his first few games as a Bull.
Curry and Chandler both start now for Bulls coach Bill Cartwright, and though they're at opposite ends of the spectrum – Curry can score easier, while Chandler defends better – both have the potential to come into their potential faster with Rose at the helm.
Simply put, Rose's height helps him more easily feed the teen giants than smaller guards.
"It was just like being in high school all over again, having (6-foot-7) Melvin (Buckley) working an inside-outside game with me," said Curry following his big game against the Knicks (16 points, 12 rebounds). "He knows right where to put the ball, and he's tall, so he and I can see each other better."
That's not even mentioning Best, who can still break down the best defender out top and get himself to the rack for an easy shot or dish to an open teammate.
"Having Jalen and Travis here is just going to make us so much better," Chandler said. "Especially us young guys."
That's certainly been the case thus far.
And with an influx of young talent ready to be schooled in the ways of the NBA by proven vets like Rose and Best, things are finally starting to look up at the United Center once again.
"It's not going to happen overnight," Rose said. "We've still got a long ways to go here. But hopefully, we can get these guys going – especially these young guys. I want us to turn things around, and it starts right now."
Brian C. Hedger covers the Bulls for the Times of Northwest Indiana and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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