It’s one of the greatest “what-ifs” of the last 20 years in basketball: What if Derrick Rose never got hurt? Former Bulls forward Luol Deng thinks they’d have won an NBA championship.
On Tuesday’s episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Deng was certain his old team would have captured an NBA ring had Rose not been bitten by the injury bug.
“If the injury didn’t take place, we were on our way [to a championship],” Deng told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “If you look at every team and every organization that wins it, it takes a while for you guys to get there and then you break that ice. And I think with Thibs (head coach Tom Thibodeau), he had the right personnel and the right players that year.”
He’s talking about the moment that haunts all Bulls fans in their nightmares: in Game 1 of the Bulls’ 2012 first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose tore his left ACL from a jump-stop, missing that postseason and the entire next season. Then, two years later, he suffered another season-ending game injury again.
At that point, the window for the Bulls to defeat a LeBron James-dominated Miami Heat team in the Eastern Conference had closed.
Deng also gives due credit to then-Bulls’ coach Thibodeau for assembling an elite squad that possessed all the perfect qualities to make it to the finals. It still begs the question, though, would the Bulls have seriously been that good?
“I think when the injury happened — I’m not trying to be here and bash everyone — but I think we moved too fast away from the whole process and kind of just let a lot of guys go,” Deng said on the podcast. “A lot of guys that — not necessarily myself, Joakim (Noah), Derrick or anyone else you can think of, I’m talking about a lot of the ‘Bench Mob’ for example, they should have stayed there. And I think it hurt us when we started seeing everybody leaving.
Luol Deng says Chicago Bulls would have a title if not for Derrick Rose’s injury
In their primes, Deng and Rose certainly made waves together as the most powerful Chicago duo since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. A year before Rose’s ACL injury, Rose was the league’s youngest MVP and became only the third player to record 2,000 points and 600 assists in a single season. The other two in his company? LeBron and Jordan.
For his part, Deng has often been described as the backbone of the Bulls, a 6-foot-9 small forward who was ingeniously utilized in Thibodeau’s style of play. His defense may have been his strongest suit and he was usually assigned to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
In 2011, when the Bulls fell to the Heat in the playoffs, Deng was probably thinking what every other Bulls fan was also thinking: next year is our year.
Little did they know, Rose’s injury would change the history of their franchise forever (Rose’s ridiculous proneness to injury has led to him sitting out for 257 games over eight seasons). As Deng posits, a non-injured Rose may well have catapulted the Bulls into NBA glory, but who can really tell for sure?