Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose looks on from the bench against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago

The Extra Pass: What can we expect of Derrick Rose in his return?


The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at what to expect from Derrick Rose when he returns.

This was supposed to be a lost season for the Chicago Bulls. Even the most ardent believers in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system didn’t see this coming. The Bulls didn’t have depth, they didn’t have room for improvement, and most importantly, they didn’t have Derrick Rose.

But what do the Bulls have now? A 29-19 record, the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, and a legitimate chance to catch the East’s leaders as the All-Star break approaches.

It was once easy to assume that Rose would return from his torn ACL to a floundering team just trying to stay alive. Instead, he’s coming back to a flourishing one.

That success has altered the expectations for Rose in his return. He is no longer required to be a savior, but rather a solid contributor. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bulls actually have a decent shot at winning a title. That would sound preposterous a few months ago — and to some it still might — but according to Memphis Grizzlies front office employee and former ESPN writer John Hollinger’s playoff odds, the Bulls currently have a 16.5 percent chance at making the finals.

That may surprise some, but Chicago’s 4th ranked defense is suffocating. They have two scary wing defenders in Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler to throw at Miami, they have the passing big men to dice up a slow defense like New York, and you have to imagine they’d welcome a grind out battle on their terms against an Indiana or Brooklyn. Point being, we know this is a very capable team. They’ve proven that early on.

That said, what we don’t know about the Bulls looms large in the big picture. What can we expect of Derrick Rose when he makes his return?

The good and the bad

The hopeful few will quickly cite the name of Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who won the league’s MVP award and put together his best season after an ACL injury. The line of thought isn’t hard to follow — Peterson is an athletic wonder that shines over his peers, and Rose is cut from the same cloth. Special athletes are more equipped to deal with this sort of thing, you would think.

Ignoring the apples and oranges that is football and basketball for a second, it’s important to remember that we can compare players physically, but we can’t do the same mentally. Although I wish I weren’t speaking from experience, the mental hurdles after an ACL injury are the most difficult to overcome. Trusting your knee not to give out when you euro step, not hesitating to take off in traffic for a floater — these are things that take different amounts of time for everyone. What Peterson did was as much a triumph over mind as it was body. That’s not to say Rose can’t do the same, but success following an ACL injury goes deeper than what you can do physically.

That said, we should deal in what we know and what we’ve seen in the past from NBA players coming back from ACL injuries. Last season, Kevin Pelton broke it down at Basketball Prospectus:

“Going back to the 1999-00 campaign and not including this year’s (2012) results, I found 40 ACL tears suffered by NBA players in games, practices, or even during summer workouts while under contract.

Of those 40, 22 involved players had usable pre- and post-injury numbers to compare. That’s a relatively small sample size, but such is the nature of rare injuries. On average, these players saw their per-minute winning percentage drop from .452 to .405, a 10.4 percent decline in their effectiveness. 15 of the 22 got worse.

A comparison of some of their key statistics before and after the injury:

Period     MPG    Usg    TS%   Reb%   Ast%   Stl%   Blk%   FTA%   Win%
Before    24.0   .206   .528   .113   .026   .013   .013   .119   .452
After     21.7   .194   .502   .114   .024   .013   .012   .114   .405

Pelton goes on to explain that the biggest differences in players that come back from ACL injuries are found in usage rates and shooting percentages. This is particularly noteworthy for Rose, a player who contributes primarily with his ability to score.

More recent examples of guards with ACL tears foretell a difficult path ahead for Rose. Although Iman Shumpert and Ricky Rubio have very different games than Rose, they have suffered massive drops in shooting percentages this season. In eight games so far, Shumpert’s True Shooting Percentage is down from 48.4 percent last year to 43.3 percent. In 19 games, Rubio’s percentage is down from 47.6 percent last year to 42.7 this year. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Eric Maynor is down from 46.6 percent to 40.3 percent as well.

Corey Brewer is probably the last perimeter player to come back strong from an ACL tear. Brewer averaged his highest points per game total of his career after his injury, and he saw a bump in his percentages as well.

But again, Rose is not Rubio, Shumpert, Maynor or Brewer. He’s a much more explosive scorer that uses almost a third of Chicago’s total possessions. He’s a star. History indicates he might not be that right away coming off his injury, but the Bulls might not need him to be, either.

Kobe Bryant: “Do I want to play again or don’t I… the reality is no, I don’t.”

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant has known the answer for a while, he just wasn’t ready to admit it to himself. Let alone the world.

He wanted to try to wring one more season of good basketball out of his 37-year-old body. He wanted to try to talk himself out what his body was telling him. If he put in the work like he always had — if he lifted weights and stretched and took ice baths and watched film obsessively — he could still have a dramatic, positive impact on an NBA court.

A month into the season, Kobe admitted to himself he couldn’t will himself to do it anymore.

“Ultimately it’s a decision I had to make in life: Do I want to play again or don’t I?” Kobe asked. “It’s a very simple question, but it’s hard question to really answer. And the reality is no, I don’t. So why belabor it?”

Kobe announced that he will retire from the NBA at the end of this season.

Speaking to the media at Staples Center after another Lakers’ loss Sunday, what was clear was Kobe was comfortable with his decision. As Byron Scott had said before, Kobe was at peace with it.

“I’ve known for a while,” Bryant said. “I’ve always said if anything changes, I’ll change my mind. The problem for me, you can’t make a decision like this based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision. Finally I just had to accept it, I don’t want to go through this anymore. And I’m okay with that.”

For two decades of his NBA career — in reality, much longer than that — basketball had been Kobe’s obsession. It drove his every decision, his every action. But even that had begun to change. He regularly meditates (thanks, Phil Jackson) and it was there he started to realize what was happening.

“Sitting in meditation for me, my mind starts drifting, and it always drifted to basketball. Always. And it doesn’t do that anymore,” Kobe said. “It does that sometimes, it doesn’t do that all the time. That was the first indicator that this game was not something I can obsess over much longer.”

Not that Kobe was going to give up the game without a fight. Kobe is not going to just roll over. However, after 20 seasons, 55,000 NBA minutes, a torn Achilles and major knee injury, hard work was not enough. Obsession was no longer enough. His body was quitting on him.

He’s accepted and come to peace with that.

“I honestly feel really good about it. I really do. I’m at peace with it…” Bryant said. “I’ve worked so hard and I continue to work really hard even though I played like shit, I’ve worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that.”

Make no mistake he is playing like crap. He’s a shell of his old self on defense. After a 4-of-20 shooting performance against the Pacers Sunday night, Kobe is shooting 30.5 percent on the season. He was 2-of-15 to start the game.

But a flash of vintage Kobe is what everyone will remember from Sunday’s game — they will talk about his two late fourth quarter three pointers, one a ridiculous leaner, that helped a Lakers’ comeback and brought the team within two points of the Pacers late in the fourth. After a Paul George free throw (George had 35 on the night), Kobe got a chance for a three to tie the game. He sprinted up off a down screen, caught the ball and moved along the top of the arc, getting enough space to get off a quick shot. And he airballed it. Which speaks to where his legs are now.

Kobe still loves putting in the work, which is one reason he’s not walking away mid-season (that $25 million contract may be a factor as well). He said “there is so much beauty in the pain of this league.” He still loves the effort of trying to get better every day.

He’s just not seeing results anymore. If he were playing better, if the young Lakers like D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were coming along more quickly, if this Lakers’ team was more respectable, then his decision might be different. But none of those things are happening.

That doesn’t mean anyone gets to talk smack to Kobe.

“We were playing Portland and some kid from the bench said something to me, said ‘we’re going to beat you tonight.’ I looked at him and said ‘I’ve got one rule: If you weren’t born when I started playing you can’t talk trash. It’s a simple rule’ And he looked and said, ‘Yes sir.’”

Coach Byron Scott and GM Mitch Kupchak have not talked about how Kobe will be used going forward after this decision, although don’t expect much of a change. This is the Kobe Bryant farewell tour now, and at home and on the road he will have adulation rained on him by the fans. They want to see Kobe be Kobe, and it’s not like he’s suddenly going to change playing styles.

Kobe appreciates and said he loves the fans, but it’s what he hears from other players — guys who have gone to him for advice such as Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, James Harden — that matters most to Bryant.

“The coolest thing is the messages I receive from the players,” he said. “They say thank you for the inspiration, thank you for the lessons, for the mentality. Those things honestly mean the most from me, that respect from the peers, there’s nothing in the world that beats that.”

It’s hard to walk away from that. To willingly step back from the only life you’ve known for two decades. Even if it’s been obvious for a little while it was time.

Bryant had to admit to himself it was time. Now he has, hopefully he can savor every moment of this season and leave it on his own terms.


76ers tie NBA worst with 0-18 start after loss to Grizzlies

Matt Barnes, Nik Stauskas, Jerami Grant
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Zach Randolph had 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Memphis Grizzlies to a 92-84 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday, sending the 76ers to their record-tying 18th straight loss to start the season.

The Sixers have lost an NBA-record 28 consecutive games dating to last season and at 0-18 matched the New Jersey Nets’ start in 2009-10.

Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 20 points, while Matt Barnes and Jeff Green finished with 13 apiece as Memphis won for the seventh time in the last nine.

Isaiah Canaan led the Sixers with 16 points, while Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson scored 12 points apiece. Jerami Grant finished with 11 points.

The Sixers led 76-71 with 7:38 remaining and Memphis fans were booing their team. But the Grizzlies went on a 15-1 run to retake control of the game, with Randolph scoring eight points in the rally.

Byron Scott: Kobe Bryant “at peace” with decision to retire after season

Kobe Bryant

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant was never going to go quietly into that good night. He would rage, rage against the dying of the light — and torn Achilles, knee ligaments, shoulders, and everything else holding him back.

But now, the end is near, and Kobe will face the final curtain at the end of this season. And he is at peace with it, if you ask his coach.

“It was so matter of fact, and he was so at peace with (the decision),” Lakers’ coach Byron Scott said of when Kobe told him this season would be it. “After I thought about it, I felt better about that. It wasn’t like he was agonizing over it or anything, it was like ‘I’m announcing I’m retiring’ and just kind of went on from there.”

Bryant told Scott before anyone else in the Lakers’ organization, and told him sometime Saturday (when the Lakers played and lost in Portland).

“I said, ‘what?’ He just told me at a very awkward time; we started laughing about it,” Scott said. “He said ‘you looked like you were saying ‘what they hell are you talking about’ but it just caught me off guard.”

It’s been an ugly season for Kobe, his body can no longer do what he expects of it — he can’t get the separation, the lift needed for his shoots. He was shooting 31.1 percent on the season going into Sunday’s game against Indiana, and he started 1-of-11 from the floor Sunday night. Yet he kept gunning.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

Kupchak added hoped this decision would ease the pressure on Bryant.

“I would hope that he has more fun, and appears less frustrated, and also gets more appreciation,” Kupchak said. “He’ll get it at home, but on the road too, because people will have to recognize this is his last year and they are watching one of the all-time greats.”

Kobe got plenty of appreciation from Lakers’ fans on Sunday night with a massive ovation when he was introduced. Kobe had wanted to avoid a Derek Jeter style farewell tour, but with that announcement and the Lakers playing 13-of-17 on the road in December you can bet there will be some of that.

“One of the best ever to play the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said pregame. “I don’t know if there’s any one moment, just throughout the course of his career you didn’t want him to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, period. Because you knew he was going to beat you.”

No doubt Kobe goes down as one of the game’s all-time greats — five-time NBA champion, MVP, two Finals MVP’s, 17 All-Star Games, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg — but what Scott ultimately wants is Bryant to leave the game on his terms.

“What I want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.


Here is Kobe Bryant’s letter given to every fan at Lakers’ game Sunday

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.

Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):

When we first met I was just a kid.

Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.

But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.

You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.

Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.

You witnessed my fears morph into strength.

Your rejection taught me courage.

Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.

What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.

I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.

I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.

My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.

Thank you for this incredible journey.

It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.

But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.