The Case for Derrick Rose

All season long, media outlets across the nation have been trumpeting the case for Miami’s LeBron James to take home his third Most Valuable Player award, regardless of who is playing on his roster with him. It’s an arguable point, but the best example for the value of James, you need not look further then how the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing this year. Its the same roster James took to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, just without him.

However, there is a stronger candidate playing in the same Conference as James’ Heat:

Derrick Rose.

The Bulls made a large splash in free agency last summer, locking up power forward Carlos Boozer to create a dominate inside tandem with young center Joakim Noah. However, both Noah and Boozer have been battling various injuries all season long, and, until recently, the games in which the two have actually played together in at full health have been few and far between.

Regardless, the Bulls enter play this week with a record of 40-17. That’s good enough for third in the East, and only two games behind the Boston Celtics for the best record in the conference. Also, those 40 wins are one win shy of matching their win total from last season.

There are 25 games remaining this season.

The biggest reason for the Bulls’ success this year is the improvement of Derrick Rose. Plain and simple. From last year to this year, Rose has improved his points-per-game, (up to 24.9), assists-per-game (up to 8.1), rebounds (up to 4.4) and his three-point shooting (35.0% this year), all while manning the point guard position. Furthermore, he’s played his best basketball this season against the best teams in the NBA, averaging 25+ points-per-game against the likes of Boston, San Antonio, and James’ Miami Heat. In fact, Rose’s Bulls are 2-0 against the Heat this season, and Rose has averaged 30 points and seven assists.

It is impossible to watch a Bulls game this year and not see first hand the impact Rose has had on this team’s improvement. Does a healthy Boozer and Noah help the Bulls? Absolutely, no question. But, are they the difference between the Bulls being a middle of the road Eastern Conference playoff team and a top three power? No. That is all Derrick Rose.

No Rose would mean nothing special in Chicago. No James in Miami would mean more Wade and Bosh.

Don’t forget that.

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NBA on ESPN Commercial: Derrick Rose

This Week’s City…

CHICAGO!

Chicago is home to recent success stories in the world of sports. The Blackhawks are the most recent winners of the Stanley Cup. The Bears have appeared in two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl in the last 10 years. The Bulls have won the most NBA Championships since 1990 with six. Even the White Sox took home the World Series title in 2005. However, the culture in Chicago seems to be defined by their lovable losers, the Cubs, title-less since 1908. With a city full of titles and wins, is it possible that the culture is generally defined by what the city doesn’t have?

This week we’ll have a ton of coverage, ranging from Spring Training for the Cubs and White Sox, Derrick Rose’s run at NBA MVP and the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

Week Three Summary: St. Louis Sports Culture

Week Three here at Home Field Advantage led us to explore some of the best in the Midwest, in St. Louis. Our city selection this week was originally revolving around the media frenzy surrounding Albert Pujols’ contract, but as the week progressed, our selection ended up being even more topical that we had originally intended. On Tuesday morning, news broke of Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright’s elbow injury, and as the week continued, suspicions of Tommy John surgery were confirmed. This big hit to the Cards’ bullpen, as well as the sports hernia that will leave utility infielder Nick Punto out for two to three months, was big news on the national level, and even more so within the lives of our interviewees. We had two interviews this week, one with writer Julie Adelsberger of CardsDiaspora.com, and the other with Doug Couch, a lifelong St. Louis sports fan and enthusiast. We would like to thank both Julie and Doug for their time and insight this week! Both interviews helped answer many questions regarding the teams, fans, and overall culture in St. Louis.

Cardinals news was obviously atop our interview agenda, as the approaching season in combination with the recent injuries within the roster makes it on the tip of every St. Louis fan’s tongue. Julie Adelsberger, when asked about the fans’ mentality going into the 2011 season, asserted that there were hesitations, both in the short term and in the long term. The short term concerns concern the loss of Wainwright for the season to Tommy John surgery, as he is the “linchpin” of the Cardinals’ offense, and his impending surgery leaves many questions regarding the capacity of the bullpen to fill the void. Long term concerns are heavily rooted in the Albert Pujols situation, as his hesitation to agree to a contract extension have caused a lot of “heartburn” for the Cards’ front office, media reps, and fans alike. With his extension deadline passing last week, Pujols won’t negotiate another contract until the end of the season, which will inevitably cause a lot of anxiety as St. Louis wonders whether or not he will return in the red and white come next season. However, we were surprised to hear from Adelsberger that although the Pujols situation has generated a ton of media hype, many people don’t think he truly wants to leave the Cardinals organization. Adelsberger also suspects that releasing Pujols at the end of the season to see what his value in the free agency market would be may be part of the Cards’ strategy. Although this could be seen as a risky move, a “hometown discount” is not in consideration either, as Adelsberger asserts that the Cardinals have enough money to outbid any other interested organizations looking to fill off-season gaps with Pujols. Although Pujols’ situation is on virtually every show on ESPN, she contends that it is mostly media hype, and that nobody is truly worried about Pujols’ future, but more so about the future of the rotation given the recent loss of Wainwright for the entire season.

Another issue contributing to the St. Louis Cardinals news in the city is the growing uncertainty about Tony LaRussa’s leadership. Adelsberger stresses that his presence in the dugout is a “love him or hate him” kind of relationship with Cards fans, with more fans recently deflecting to the latter mentality. Although he is a storied and successful manager in both the NL and AL, he primarily favors veteran players, and operates under a number of “quirks” that are not “cute anymore,” Adelsberger contends. As more uncertainties are unearthed regarding this season’s roster, fans are starting to fear the divisional competition and their rotations more, looking to avoid “ending up like the Cubs.” If this season ends on a downhearted and dismal note, just like it appears to be starting on, LaRussa’s future with the Cards could be one of the first relationships to be called into question.

In Rams news, as the NFC West competition was so drab last season, the Rams ended the season tied for first with a record of 7-9. Adelsberger stated in the interview that she is amazed at the “unfettered optimism” within fans, but is still skeptical regarding the turnaround of the recently subpar team. With the off-season addition of Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator, Adelsberger asserts that if he can naturally “click” with head coach Spagnuolo, it would benefit the team tremendously. And with many fans expecting a lot from the NFL draft and off-season trades, there is a large amount of enthusiasm regarding the Rams’ push to return to a level close to the “Greatest Show on Turf.”

With the absence of an NBA team in St. Louis, Blues hockey is paramount come wintertime. They have a fantastic and loyal fanbase, and most games in the Scottrade Center are sold out. Recent “gutsy” trades, including Eric Johnson to the Avalanche last week, have surprised the whole hockey following, but given recent challenges brought on by injuries and low payroll numbers due to recent financial crises within the front office, these moves are part of a long term plan to realistically “transform” the team over the next few seasons. Adelsberger called the Blues the “greatest tease” for fans, as the franchise made it to the playoffs every season from 1980-2004, the third longest streak in North American pro sports history, but have no Stanley Cups to their name. Regardless of the inevitable annual playoff disappointments, which Adelsberger asserts is “part of the allure,” Blue fans remain loyal regardless, holding on for change to come, hopefully bringing a Stanley Cup with it.

A big story in the St. Louis sports culture is the heavy presence of Missouri Tigers athletics, particularly the football culture. Gameday in Columbia is almost a religious affair, as Tigers football generally supersedes any other events happening that day. A big story in Mizzou recently is that of hometown talent Blaine Gabbert, the quarterback for the Tigers who is looking to position himself atop the NFL draft in April. Although he still has one more season of eligibility and Mizzou fans are questionable about second string QB James Franklin’s efficiency in the upcoming season, fans are still proud of their hometown boy asserting himself atop draft predictions.

This fan support is something that we have found as distinguishing of virtually all St. Louis sports franchises and college programs alike. St. Louis is a one newspaper town, making it much different and closer-knit of a market than the two cities we have covered prior to this week. As interviewee Doug Couch stated, “there are three seasons in St. Louis. Football season, hockey season, and baseball season.” Couch also testified to the fact that conversations almost always end up on the topic of sports, and if one is not knowledgeable, then they are inevitably left out. Sport is so engrained in the life of the people in this week’s city of the week, and it often dictates the emotion and mood of the people who follow it. Hence why the recent hits to the Cardinals’ roster were emulated as despair and disappointment in the perspectives of the two St. Louis residents we spoke to this week.

Another noticeable trend in St. Louis fanhood is the classiness of the fans in the city, as well as the actions of the franchises that operate there. The moves made by front offices, as well as the fan outreach to each situation show that the fan culture is so important, but is approached with refinement, politeness, and respect. History and personal affiliation with the teams in St. Louis is essentially a family affair, as going to games and following the teams is something that people do as children, and then continue with their own children. The high personal value of sport in St. Louis is reflected in the rich sports culture there, where the pride and tradition is so very evident.

Podcasts of the entire radio show, as well as our interviews will be available by the end of the weekend. Stay tuned next week as we cover the historical city of Chicago, and the sports culture there, from the historically successful Bulls to the recent Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks to the century long championship drought of the Cubs to the White Sox to the Bears! It’ll be a busy week, and we can’t wait! Thanks as always for your support!

HFA Radio Today at 4pm

Today at 4pm EST, Home Field Advantage Radio returns live from WMAR Studios.

On today’s show, we will cover all the drama surrounding St. Louis sports, from Pujols to Wainwright to Josh McDaniels.

Our guests today include Cardinals Diaspora (CardsDiaspora.com) writer Julie Adelsberger, along with life-long St. Louis sports fan Doug Couch.

Tune in at 4pm live on icecast.marist.edu!

Wainwright Update

For Cardinals fans and the team alike, the news on starting pitcher Adam Wainwright is as bad as they had feared.

The team announced today that Wainwright would require season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow (ESPN News Link). Typically, the procedure requires a 12-15 month rehabilitation, rendering Wainwright unavailable until Opening Day 2012 at the earliest.

The runner-up in the Cy Young balloting last season, Wainwright posted a 20-11 record with a 2.42 ERA and 200+ strikeouts. He was slotted to be the 1-2 punch in the Cardinals rotation along with former Cy Young award winner Chris Carpenter.

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak has stated the team will begin its search to fill out the rotation internally, giving pitchers Kyle McClellan, Lance Lynn, P.J. Walters, and Ian Snell the opportunity to win the competition. However, there are options available on the free agent market, with the likes of veteran Kevin Millwood yet to sign a contract with a team.

It will be impossible for the Cardinals to expect a Wainwright-like performance from whoever fills out that fifth spot in the rotation. But, this isn’t a death sentence for their season, either. They still have one of the strongest line-ups in the National League, anchored by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Also, their ace, Chris Carpenter, is a former Cy Young award winner. He is one of the best pitchers in the National League when he is on his game, and he can easily lead this rotation in the absence of Wainwright. Also, the team has two veterans in Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse who will embrace this situation and pick up some slack on their end.

The key, however, may be second-year starter Jaime Garcia. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, won 13 games and had an earned run average of 2.70. How he performs this season will be the difference between the Cardinals competing at the top end of the National League Central and the team fading towards the back of the pack.

Atlanta Update: Hawks acquire PG Kirk Hinrich in Five-Player Trade

Whenever we talked about the Atlanta Hawks last week, one of our main issues with the structure of the team was focused on the lack of production from their point guard position.

Seemingly, the Hawks front office heard our points.

Last night, the Hawks acquired Washington Wizards guard Kirk Hinrich and center Hilton Armstrong for point guard Mike Bibby, rookie guard Jordan Crawford and forward Maurice Evans (ESPN News Link). The Wizards also received a first-round selection from the Hawks.

The Hawks desperately needed an upgrade from the aging Bibby. Averaging 9.4 points per game and 3.6 assists, the 32-year old veteran was no longer able to compete defensively against the younger guards dominating Eastern Conference play and wasn’t meshing with his own team at the level he previously had. However, the Wizards view Bibby as an excellent tutor to their young point guard, number one overall draft pick John Wall. The tutoring Bibby can do in an environment where the Wizards aren’t ready to compete is exactly what management had hoped for in the trade.

In Hinrich, the Hawks received an athletic guard who can excel at both guard positions and opens up what the team can do in the fast break. While playing alongside Wall, Hinrich averaged 11.1 points per game and 4.4 assists. With the Hawks, Hinrich will be immediately inserted into the starting rotation and will look to add some offensive punch to a strong base that includes Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford. More importantly, Hinrich, known for his strong defensive play, will be able to match up properly against other points in the East. The team also expects second-year guard Jeff Teague to pick up the slack off the bench with Crawford and Evans both leaving Atlanta for DC.

Looking at this trade today, it appears to be an immediate win for both teams. The Wizards add the veteran leadership the team desired to help mold John Wall. The Hawks added a younger pair of legs that can keep up defensively with the other guards in the East, all while not having to give up too much in terms of talent.

With the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets both making huge moves the same day, it will be interesting to see if the stealth acquisition of Hinrich will help steady the ship in Atlanta.