By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It had been maybe two hours since I had been on campus as a college student. I was in a dorm elevator with a stranger who broke that unique elevator silence that accompanies staring straight ahead or up at the paneled ceiling with, “So… you rushin’?”
“No, I’m Irish.”
I knew what he meant. “Was I rushing a fraternity?” Even at 18, I used smartass-ness as a defense in awkward situations like that, and I was even sort of impressed that I’d without hesitation come up with that response, which was way better than literally any negative or affirmative or qualifier. All of those would most certainly have been followed by a pitch for whatever frat this guy was buying into and, thus, a longer, more awkward conversation that wouldn’t get me to join a frat anyway.
He didn’t find my response as clever as I did. From the corner of my eye I caught him turning his head in slow, pronounced T-1000 fashion with a disapproving look that I was used to from years of disapproving teachers and relatives and strangers just as the sitcom-scripted elevator door opened on cue at the ground floor.
And so I’ve always felt for Derrick Rose in such a sense. Following just his second year as a pro and seemingly ever since, Rose has been labeled as a less-than-ideal star because he says he doesn’t want to recruit other players to come to the Chicago Bulls.
‘‘If you’re a hooper and you know as a basketball player if you can play with someone, I don’t think it’s a problem with just coming to a team,” Rose said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I’ll play with anyone. And I think I can play with anyone. But I’ll never recruit.’’
I never saw that as lame on his part. Earn your friends, don’t sell them on why a friendship should happen like elevator boy — I get it. So does Bulls vice president John Paxson.
“I personally would not have been comfortable doing that as a player,” he said in January. “That was me, so I expect and appreciate where Derrick is coming from.”
But what I also now understand is that there’s an opportunity for the Bulls right now to improve drastically and take advantage of what otherwise is a very winnable Eastern Conference next season and probably a few years after that. The Bulls have two picks in the teens in next week’s draft, giving them the option of adding at least one immediate contributor, even if that means using the picks to trade up or in a package to swap for Kevin Love. That scenario doesn’t involve Rose.
The Carmelo Anthony one does. The LeBron James one does, too. And it’s time for Derrick Rose to start having Chicago Bulls conversations with them because speaking softly and carrying a big stick hasn’t worked so far.
The Bulls reportedly are looking to improve “at any cost,” besides dealing Rose himself. While Paxson understands Rose’s position, I’m sure he and general manager Gar Forman would appreciate a little bit of help from their star guard.
Anthony, James and Rose also happen to be teammates later this summer with Team USA. One seems to be in a tumultuous, poorly-handled situation in New York. Another has a bad taste in his mouth in an aging, maybe crumbling situation in Miami. Chicago seems like a good place for either to refresh his superstardom and get a ring and own one of the league’s most important basketball towns.
This doesn’t need to be an all-out recruiting pitch by Rose. Joakim Noah has done that already with Anthony, and Noah is smart enough to not let any past tensions between Heat players and him stop him from directly reaching out to James or doing a friend-of-a-friend thing. If James is remotely available as a free agent, you can be sure Noah will find some way to get a word out to him that the two of them would construct arguably the league’s best defense.
Rose instead just needs to let those guys know he’s there. Not an uncomfortable elevator situation, but a casual, “Hey, isn’t being teammates for the FIBA World Cup going to be nice? We could be teammates year-round, too.” And it would be a nice little favor to fans and any member of the Bulls organization who aren’t exactly keen on Rose playing for Team USA to begin with after playing a total of 49 games for Chicago the past three seasons.
Rose merely needs to talk, not sell. This need not be an infomercial — “And if you sign now, you’ll also get this very respectable Mike Dunleavy absolutely free!” Other stars just need to know that Rose wants to win ASAP and that as prideful as the Bulls have been, they understand they aren’t winning a title with the current roster in Chicago.
But maybe the Bulls are one star away. Maybe under coach Tom Thibodeau, Anthony’s best game can emerge. Maybe with James, Thibodeau wouldn’t have to find new and exciting ways to make entire meals out of the fridge full of condiments and expired milk.
And maybe with No. 1 feeding James or Anthony the ball, it all comes together. Rose isn’t getting guys to buy into a frat. He’s a professional who wants to win.
It would help if he fed a star or two a line first, though.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.