Once a franchise footnote, Rogers returns to join Bulls coaching staff
Before being hired as an assistant coach this summer, Roy Rogers had a history with the Bulls that was somehow brief, memorable, forgettable and awkward, all at the same time.
Rogers became a footnote in Bulls history on Jan. 22, 1999, when he was traded from Houston for Scottie Pippen. This happened at a strange time for the franchise, just before the lockout season began, when Michael Jordan had retired, Tim Floyd replaced Phil Jackson as head coach, and Jerry Krause sold off many of the championship pieces in a span of a few days.
Rogers joined the Bulls in time for a preseason home game against Indiana. Before tipoff, he was swarmed by cameras and reporters, some asking how it felt to be one of the new faces of the franchise.
But Rogers already knew the Bulls planned to release him a day or two later. That one mass interview was both the high and low point of his stay in Chicago.
Asked about the memory, Rogers seems to smile and cringe at the same time.
"It's one of those things when you're grateful for the one day and then you're like, 'Man, I wish this stay could have been longer,'" he said this week at the Advocate Center. "It was a transitioning period for both the organization and myself."
Rogers is one of the Bulls' new assistant coaches hired this summer. Coincidentally, he came from Houston this time too, spending the past three years with Mike D'Antoni. Bulls head coach Jim Boylen has said Rogers will focus on the defense, but Rogers thinks he can add perspective to both ends of the court.
"Jim's allowed me to have input on the offense just because I was able to pick Mike's brain for three years, I was able to sit there and see him work," Rogers said. "There's some things offensively that I would like to bring to the table, what we did in Houston. So I think I've had probably more emphasis on the defense, but I've also had input on the offense."
The 6-foot-10 Rogers was a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1996, but his NBA playing career didn't last long. He played in Europe for a few years, retired as a player and prepared to move on with his life.
"I decided I was going to go into real estate," he said. "I remember finishing up my classes, passing my exam and just missing the game. So I came home and told my wife, 'I want to coach.' She says, 'Oh no, we're done with this.'"
She came around, though, and after a few dozen phone calls, Rogers landed a job in the fledgling Developmental League as an assistant with the Huntsville Flight in his home state of Alabama. One of the head coaches he worked for in the D-League was DePaul's Joey Meyer.
"I'm so grateful for playing in the NBA because it opened up this opportunity for me to coach in the NBA," he said. "I enjoy playing, but I absolutely love coaching. There's nothing more I enjoy than teaching the game of basketball to young players. I enjoyed every minute I was in the D-League."
The Bulls have launched a high number of 3-pointers during preseason and that's a strategy Rogers knows well. During the past three years, the Rockets set the three-highest numbers in NBA history for 3-pointers attempted per game.
At the same time, Rogers got to learn the defensive side from Mount Prospect native Jeff Bzdelik, a former head coach in the NBA and college. The Rockets decided to shake up the coaching staff this summer and both Rogers and Bzdelik, now with New Orleans, moved on.
"It was basically like the perfect marriage because you had Jeff, who's one of the brightest defensive minds in the game, and then you have Mike, who's probably one of the brightest offensive minds to ever walk the sideline," Rogers said. "To see those guys interact every day was amazing."
So Rogers is a good fit for the rebuilding Bulls, because he's had impressive offensive and defensive mentors. He also has that Bulls locker room experience, even if it did last only a few hours.