Babes in Bullsland
Jalen Rose has picked up the spirits—and the play—of Chicago's rookie big men
Jalen Rose was angry when the Pacers dealt him to the ever-rebuilding Bulls in a seven-player trade on Feb. 19. "A lot of players in my situation would not want to come here," says Rose, 29, who after helping Indiana reach the Finals in 2000 signed a seven-year, $93 million contract and assumed he would finish his career with the Pacers.
But Rose has adapted quickly in Chicago. Because he's a play-maker as well as a scorer, the 6'8" Rose says he will hold himself responsible for developing 7'1" Tyson Chandler and 6'11", 285-pound Eddy Curry, the second and fourth picks, respectively, in last year's draft. "These guys need to become a high-low Twin Towers," says Rose, pointing out that only a few teams pack that sort of one-two punch.
Rose believes he can lift the Bulls the way Jason Kidd has the Nets, but it will take awhile. Kidd joined a club loaded with skilled veterans. Rose's fellow starters—Chandler, Curry, Trenton Hassell and A.J. Guyton—have combined played fewer than half as many NBA games as Rose. Told that second-year forward Marcus Fizer wore number 5 in high school and college as tribute to him, Rose says, "I feel old."
Still, the early returns have been promising. Rose led Chicago to wins in four of his first seven games, with Chandler and Curry picking up their games noticeably. Last Friday, Curry had career highs of 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a 90-81 home victory over the Jordan-less Wizards. Rose exploited the absence of injured Washington centers Jahidi White and Brendan Haywood by feeding Curry, even after two early shots had been rejected. "Now we have a guy who's looking for us," Curry says of Rose. "After running the same screen-and-roll plays all season without getting the ball, you begin to think you're not open. But Jalen always finds you."
Although Chandler has never seen The Odd Couple, he understands how the term applies to Curry and himself. Apart from being 19, they have little in common. Chandler, who has the makings of a defensive force, is outgoing and confident; Curry is more skilled offensively and more reticent, though he has drawn two technicals for taunting. "That's Tyson rubbing off on me," he says.
It makes sense that Chandler would be the cockier of the two: He was drafted higher and acquired for Elton Brand, an All-Star power forward in his third season (as well as Brian Skinner). Fellow G.M.'s still shake their heads when discussing Jerry Krause's draft-night trade of a sure tiling in return for a player who'd just graduated from Dominguez High in Compton, Calif. Yet Bulls coach BUI Cartwright believes that Chandler's speed and enormous shot-blocking potential could prove more valuable over the long run.
Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders also likes Chandler's upside. "The guys who have a chance to shine more are the ones who are a freak of position, like [ Kevin Garnett]," he says. "That's what Chandler is. He's a 7'1" small forward who can cause matchup problems."
The 235-pound Chandler plans to work on an array of moves this summer that will enhance that edge. "I want the coach to be able to put me wherever he wants me in order to create a mismatch night in and night out," says Chandler, who missed Sunday's 92-84 loss at New Jersey with a hyperextended left pinkie. "I'm going to be a star in the league. It's just a matter of time."
At this time last year NBA scouts were questioning whether Curry, who played at Thornwood (Ill.) High, had the work ethic to succeed. Cartwright has no doubts on that count; along with Chandler, Curry shows up at least an hour early for practice to work with an assistant coach. Though Curry's game is less varied than Chandler's, he is a former gymnast who performed a backflip as recently as last summer. He has the bulk to hold position down low and has showed flashes as a post-up scorer.