By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Thirty percent of the Bulls salary-cap space is useless, again.
Nearly a third of the pre-luxury-tax room they have is committed to a player giving them absolutely nothing, just as it did last year. And the question will remain in the seasons ahead exactly what that percentage is doing to propel them to an NBA title.
Thanks to a personally-motivated effort by union executive-committee member Chris Paul, the collective bargaining agreement negotiated in December of 2011 included a provision created to reward a young star for significantly outplaying his rookie contract. To qualify as “Designated Player” for the 30% level instead of the standard 25% otherwise available, the precocious youngster must either be voted to start in two All-Star games, be named any level of All-NBA twice, or win one MVP award.
Only one person happened to satisfy the criteria at the time it was ratified, and he signed the five-year, $94.8 million extension. For that reason, it has since been called the “Derrick Rose Rule.”
Rose will make $17,632,688 this year, then $18,882,876, $20,093,064 and $21,323,252 through 2017.
He deserves it, since he negotiated it. Just as he deserves the 14-year, $260 million endorsement deal with Adidas. Nobody should argue after the fact that this was any kind of mistake by the Bulls, either, to keep their dazzling superstar by offering a deal structured per the rules. It all seemed right at the time.
But that does not mean cold reality must be ignored.
The system is set up to be polarized. Ideally, a champion is built around two all-star-level players making most of the money, with the rest of the roster some lucky combination of quickly-developing draftees still on rookie deals, well-considered veteran free-agent signings, and homegrown talent already extended in cap-friendly fashion. Even with changes around the edges year to year, the tent-poles that are the two stars remain solidly in place.
The Bulls, then, have a collapsing tent. What’s worse, they never even found the second great player so many of us believed they always needed to be anything but a glass-ceilinged overachiever. Luol Deng has been reliably good — he’ll now be gone either by free-agent departure at the end of this season or trade before then, and Carlos Boozer is paid like somebody better, his deal a function of the market at the time. He is a candidate to be released via amnesty, since he was signed before the new CBA took effect.
But now a massive chunk of money is out of play, with no guarantee that Rose will ever return to the form that earned it. While there is no doubt that he will play again — and probably very well for the remainder of his career – there is fair question as to whether he will resemble the kind of dynamic player equipped to carry a champion. If he is anything at all less than that, the delicate economic arrangement of the roster crumbles.
Rose was not playing well in his return from ACL reconstruction in his left knee, after choosing inexplicably to delay the final phase of his rehabilitation and eschewing the program prescribed by team orthopedists. Now that he has undergone a major procedure to reattach the torn medial meniscus in his right knee, it is reasonable to fear that whatever he once was is gone, even if he remains effective enough. It’s also possible that he could spend so much time protecting his long-term career that he ends up not even having one.
The money on the books is designated for what he was, and perhaps what he could have been. It is not commensurate to whatever the reality will be.
For better or worse, that first-of-its-kind contract bears his name.
There is another noted eponym in the NBA agreement, one whose signing spawned a series of rules allowing teams to exceed the salary cap to retain their own free agents. Celtics Hall-of-Famer Larry Bird was a 12-time All-Star, three-time MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, and the winner of three titles. That he’s connected to the arcane details of roster accounting is mere trivia, a fact obscured by his towering on-court accomplishments. There is no subtext to discussion of “Bird-exception” players, “Bird rights” or “non-Bird” free agents each offseason.
Invoking the “Derrick Rose Rule,” however, could always carry a tacit shadow of melancholy, reminding us of what we missed.