Hiatus Hot Take: Healthy Rose would have led Bulls to title
Today’s take: The Bulls win a championship if Derrick Rose didn’t suffer a torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs.
This topic has become a cliché over the years, often used by those who criticize the Bulls' management team of John Paxson and Gar Forman. "When Derrick got hurt ..." became the front office's catchall excuse for negative things that happened since then.
Too much time has passed for Rose's injury to be a valid excuse for the Bulls' current struggles. Back in his glory days, it was a different story.
Even before the untimely injury, it was easy to suspect Rose's window as an MVP-caliber star would be brief. Just based on the laws of kinesiology, his elite athleticism would have a shelf life, especially with how he was knocked around on drives to the basket.
Another frequently-spoken cliché is that Bulls team would never beat Miami, because all the Heat had to do was switch LeBron James onto Rose in the fourth quarter and it was game-over. Yeah, that was a tough matchup, but it wasn't a decisive one and the 2011 Eastern Conference finals proves the point.
Maybe they lose either way, but the Bulls should have been up 3-2 in that series. In both Game 4 and 5, Rose missed a free throw late in the fourth quarter that could have made a difference.
With 1:09 left in regulation of Game 4 in Miami, Rose went 1-for-2 at the line, which left the game tied 85-85 and that was the end of the scoring -- until overtime, when the Heat won 101-93.
In Game 5 back at the United Center, the Bulls surrendered an 18-3 run over the final 3:14, squandering a 12-point lead. Rose missed a free throw that would have tied the score with 26.7 seconds left and the Bulls had to foul intentionally after that.
So it's not as simple as James could shut down Rose anytime he wanted. The Bulls had chances to win both of those games.
Free throws were also an undeniable factor in that series. Even though Rose had just won MVP, he didn't have the same star power as James and Dwyane Wade.
During Games 4 and 5, Miami shot 71 free throws, the Bulls 43. James got to the line 24 times, Wade 15 and Rose 13. It's true that a player should have to earn his free throws, but no one in the league was more aggressive than Rose back then. As the years progressed you have to think Rose would have gotten more calls and more free throws, erasing some of the advantage James and Wade carried in 2011.
I'm not even arguing the 2011 Bulls should have beaten the Heat. I'm saying remove Keith Bogans, send in Jimmy Butler and the 2013 Bulls could have done it.
The Bulls landed Butler in the '11 draft. He didn't play much as a rookie, but in the 2013 playoffs, with Rose on the shelf, that's when Butler averaged 41 minutes per game against Brooklyn and Miami in the playoffs, shooting 40.5% from 3-point range.
If there was ever a player who could have put the Bulls over the top in that rivalry, it was Butler. Luol Deng did a nice job of defending James, but he was all the Bulls had. No one had the stamina to do everything the Bulls asked of Deng back in those days. And it showed at the end of those playoff games.
But with Butler and Ronnie Brewer available to share the job of guarding Wade and James, it would have made Deng more effective. Remember when Dallas beat the Heat in the 2011 Finals, the Mavericks were able to use both Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson against James and he had a rough series.
As always, there were pitfalls. Deng missed the 2013 playoff series against Miami after a spinal tap turned out badly. But if you stretch the window to 2014, that was the year Joakim Noah finished fourth in MVP voting.
The sight of Rose collapsing to the court and clutching his knee in pain is one of the low points in recent NBA history, not just the Bulls. We'll never know what could have happened, but clearly the 2011 series was closer than 4-1 would indicate and Butler could have put the Bulls over the top.
Rose, Butler, Deng and Noah were capable of beating the Heat, but they never got the chance.