This past Sunday, the United States defeated Spain 107-100 in the men’s Olympic final to win its second consecutive gold medal. While LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and the rest of our country’s basketball representatives certainly deserve high praise for their efforts, the conclusion of the international tournament was a bittersweet moment for me.
As Team USA stood proud during the national anthem with the most distinguished Olympic souvenir hanging from their necks, my patriotism was overshadowed by the ceremony symbolizing the culmination of a disheartening offseason for the Chicago Bulls. Yes, the Bulls’ summer of 2012 will be remembered for the death of the Bench Mob, the questionable health of Derrick Rose, and the cost-cutting strategies of the most profitable team in the NBA, but an underrated subplot of these disastrous few months were the final opportunities lost in London.
The Olympic experience was a potential springboard for the continued development of the two most renowned Bulls, Derrick Rose & Joakim Noah. As fans are well aware, the devastating injuries each suffered by Rose (United States) and Noah (France) prevented them from competing on their respective national teams. Although the reprieve from basketball for the Bulls teammates should have them rested and recovered for next season, the opportunity to play on the same floor with such elite and diversified talent in London would have definitely improved their games.
Noah wouldn’t have “evolved” his tornado jumper, much less acquire the offensive repertoire of a Hakeem Olajuwon, but his presence as France’s defensive anchor would have him well prepared for the upcoming NBA season. While we could rationalize that Noah was better off not engaging in the “culture” of French teammates (featuring dietary indiscretions, after-hour altercations, and vicious groin attacks not seen since this side of Eddy Curry), the Olympics do provide a professional training grounds with an intensity only surpassed by playoff basketball.
The benefits of an international experience were best realized by Rose’s performance in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. During the final moments of the championship game versus Spain, it was Rose who solidified his status as a preeminent closer by scoring the last 4 points in an 86-85 victory for the United States. After his team USA appearance, it was no coincidence that Rose earned “Most Valuable Player” honors the following NBA season.
Even when the Bulls did have Olympic representation, the performance endured its share of scrutiny and struggle. Luol Deng, who ironically could (should?) have rehabilitated his injured wrist during the offseason like his wounded counterparts, was questioned for fulfilling his commitment to Great Britain and playing for the host country. Although no one can reasonably blame Deng for representing his adopted land as an ambassador of the games, his decision to bypass surgery at this time may limit his production for the Bulls next season. Deng did not ease any fans’ concerns with his poor shooting and uncharacteristic play throughout his Olympic tour. Deng forced errant shots and over-exerted himself as Great Britain’s primary, and often only, offensive option. If there is a silver-lining to the Olympic burden carried by Deng, it’s that his “alpha dog” experience will hopefully translate into a revitalized player ready to handle more offensive responsibility while Rose remains inactive.
Reverting back to Rose, perhaps the most negative consequence of his Olympic absence was the lost opportunity to pursue potential free agents on behalf of the Bulls. It had been speculated that Miami’s formation of the hated “Big 3” was facilitated during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Rose’s participation on Team USA would have granted him the means to execute a similar scheme in London and plant “collusion” seeds of his own.
While the idea of Rose actively recruiting within any context is far fetched given his personality, the Olympic spirit can impose its camaraderie even on the highly introverted. For example, the typically reclusive Kobe Bryant was frequently seen socializing with teammates throughout the Olympic Games (among other relationship building exercises). While there is no guarantee that Rose would accept the role of Bulls spokesperson and salesman, his presence alone would’ve still given future free agent prospects like Kevin Love and James Harden a daily glimpse of his physical capabilities and dedication as a teammate. Rose’s focus on winning and humble attitude would have undoubtedly left a favorable impression on his peers, and supported an organization historically inept at attracting top tier talent. Love specifically appears to be the most coveted target and natural fit for the Bulls in light of his friendship with Rose, his displeasure with Timberwolves management, and his reluctance to dance (of course, the earliest Love would be available isn’t until 2015).
Despite all the missed opportunities to improve, rest, and recruit, the Olympics didn’t entirely end in doom & gloom for Bulls fans. Rose did manage to strategically introduce himself on twitter at the beginning of the gold medal game when basketball fans around the globe were likely connected to the social media platform. Through twitter, Rose can now interact directly with fans and provide timely updates on the status of his recovery. More importantly yet unlikely, the medium should give the injured Bulls superstar the chance to finally collude(!) … if only through a series of hashtags, retweets, and direct messages.