CHICAGO I went back to look at what I wrote when the Bulls stunningly won the right to the first pick in the NBA draft.
In the astonishment of that night, I declared my complete devotion to Derrick Rose, the incredible point guard from the University of Memphis.
You know how sometimes you have the thought that, given a few twists of fate and one more shot of tequila, you could have ended up marrying someone other than the person you're with and perhaps even been content? This is sort of like that, but without the physical relationship and the household chores.
So I read what I wrote a month ago oh, the strident pro-Rose prose! and thought to myself: You know what, Rick? It's not as if Michael Beasley is sauteed salmonella. This isn't a choice between Derrick Rose and Mini-Me from the "Austin Powers" movies. This is Michael Beasley, who dominated the intense Big 12 competition he faced as a freshman at Kansas State.
The Bulls will do just fine either way at Thursday night's draft. They'll be a better team with Rose or Beasley. Rose would be the better fit, but it's not as if Beasley is the guy who shows up at a Blue Man Group tryout with a microphone and his face painted plaid.
There are no guarantees here, obviously. Beasley's background is a concern. No matter what he says about each person's "normal" being different, there is nothing normal about attending five high schools and one prep school in five states. And one year of relative stability in college does not answer the worries about him. General manager John Paxson talks about players' character a lot, but unless he can find a way to convince people Beasley was an Army brat and thus had to move around a lot, this is going to be an issue until the 19-year-old Beasley proves it isn't.
"On the basketball side of things, I'm 30 years old," he told reporters last month. "Off the court, I don't know. How mature do you want me to be? I don't know if you want me to act 25 or 30 or 40. I'm a kid. I'm going to mess up.
"I hear a lot about character issues, 1/8that 3/8 I have character issues. But I've yet to hear what those character issues are. Until somebody tells me what my character issues are, I don't feel the need to change."
That Beasley often felt the need to change high schools to find the right basketball system for him is the very definition of a character issue. Character issues don't always have to manifest themselves in a criminal record.
But, again, if the Bulls decide he's the better player and that whatever compelled him to be a vagabond in high school has nothing to do with his future success as an NBA player, then go for it. He's that talented. If the Bulls draft him, we'll know they're confident he won't self-destruct.
There's a new calculus in pro sports. It's not whether a player will get into trouble. It's whether his on-court performance can mitigate his off-court problems. Cedric Benson's true sins were not the charges of driving while intoxicated and boating while intoxicated. It wasn't that he was the Bears' Paul Revereone bottle of booze if by land, two if by sea. It was that he was a major disappointment on the field.
What Paxson and all general managers ask themselves about players is: How much can I live with in terms of bad behavior?
Rose doesn't appear to have any issues away from the game, aside from a Gummi Bear habit. But one day it's Gummi Bears, the next it's Snickers bars and before you know it, he's passed out in a flophouse surrounded by empty boxes of Junior Mints.
What I like about Rosehis toughness and leadershipdoesn't always translate into NBA stardom. Can he score in the NBA? Is he the next Deron Williams? I think he is. But he's not a particularly good outside shooter.
It's fun to debate this topic, and it's more than OK to be emotional about the Bulls' potential decision, but as I sit back with the benefit of a month of perspective since they won the lottery, I can see that both players are going to be stars.
The preference here remains Rose, who is incredibly explosive with the basketball. He has something that's hard to quantify. He leads, and people follow. Toward the end of the season, a freshman was in charge at Memphis. Enough said.
As Paxson prepared to introduce Vinny Del Negro as the new Bulls coach (and after everyone stopped saying, "Vinny who?"), he talked about the team's lack of confidence last season. If I'm looking for a confidence boost, I bring in Rose. This is a kid who regularly tests positive for self-assurance.
Rose is the better pick, but getting Beasley wouldn't be the end of the world. It's a win-win. Winning that's the whole idea, isn't it?