Almost a year ago, when NBA free agency got underway and seemingly the entire league was clearing out cap space for a realigning summer, everyone under the sun was making a sales pitch to LeBron James.
Everyone wanted the King to rule their franchise. Every coach, every general manager, every owner, every fan and every player. Everyone, that is, except for one guy secretly planning to dethrone him and take his place as the new most valuable player in the league.
Everyone except Derrick Rose.
The Bulls were major players to land LeBron. They had the cap space to pay him, the major media market where he could thrive and the supporting talent to turn him into a champion right away. The Bulls were considered leading contenders to get the coveted two-time MVP, and everyone in the organization did their part to recruit him.
Except Rose was merely going through the motions. He sent LeBron a text, letting him know he was welcome in the Windy City, but he didn’t really mean it. Deep down lay his real opinion: He didn’t need LeBron. He wanted to win a championship without him. He wanted to be the No. 1 guy.
Fast forward to today, where we’re now looking at a referendum on Rose’s unspoken declaration. Rose is out to prove he doesn’t need LeBron — and yet here LeBron is, one win away from proving that yes, indeed, he does.
The Heat lead the Eastern Conference finals three games to one, and they’re on the verge of closing it out. Rose, the 22-year-old phenom anointed as the next big thing in the NBA, is about to fall short.
In four games so far in this series, we’ve seen the full scope of what LeBron has to offer. He’s been a dominant scorer, dropping 29, 22 and 35 points, respectively, in Miami’s three wins. He’s been a jack-of-all-trades defender, putting a body on everyone in sight without trepidation. He’s shown leadership and mental toughness late in close games, refusing to let the Heat falter in crunch time. He’s been more than an individual star — he’s been a championship-caliber team player.
Meanwhile, Rose has found himself isolated at the top of the key in the most crucial moments of this series, chucking up desperate jump shots. It’s not working.
Rose has been lauded this season as the game’s most modest superstar, a rare elite player without ego. The anti-LeBron, if you will. But this postseason has called that conventional wisdom into question. Maybe LeBron was a team player all along. And maybe Rose just hasn’t figured it out yet.
If LeBron finally wins a championship this spring, he’ll begin to hear comparisons to the game’s all-time great perimeter players. Kobe Bryant. Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan.
If Rose comes up short, he’ll be compared to every other carefree young guard that just didn’t have it — guys like Russell Westbrook, whose Thunder were knocked out of the playoffs Wednesday night by the veteran Mavericks.
Rose became the king of the NBA this season because it was a convenient narrative. LeBron was the league’s villain, and Rose was the yin to his yang. But the difference is that Rose can’t do this alone. Not yet, anyway. If he loses Thursday night, coming up short against the dominating force that could have been his teammate, he’ll be left to spend all summer wondering what could have been.
Does Derrick Rose need another star to win a championship? Share your thoughts below.