One of the weak points of LeBron‘s GOAT case is the fact he played most of his career in the significantly weaker Eastern Conference. Throughout his East dominance, LeBron’s teams never had a true challenger. The Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls were supposed to be that team – they were that team. That’s why LeBron is still salty about Rose’s MVP.
When the Bulls matched up against LeBron, Luol Deng had the “privilege” to be the primary defender on James. Deng was often described as the backbone of those Bulls teams, and Thibodeau consistently said he was “the glue that holds the Bulls together.” That’s why they gave him a six years $71 million contract in 2008. Still, the glue guy knows who the player that made the Bulls a legit LeBron challenger was. And as every basketball fan, Deng still isn’t over Rose’s knee injury.
“If the injury didn’t take place, we were on our way (to a championship). 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, he had the right personnel and the right players that year.”Luol Deng, Yahoo Sports
The year before, Rose became the youngest MVP in NBA history, and the Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to LeBron and the Heat in 5 games. The following season, ’11/’12, they stormed through the regular season with 50 wins. Late in Game 1 of the first round against the Sixers, a jump-stop changed everything. Derrick Rose was out with a torn ACL.
“I’ve seen guys that are athletic, but Derrick is the most explosive guy from (point) A to B that I’ve ever been around. I think it’s what made it so hard to guard him; just that first step was always so explosive that whoever was guarding him was behind him. And I think that’s what makes him so unique. You can be athletic in many different ways, but Derrick Rose’s athleticism was so powerful, it’s just different.”Luol Deng, Yahoo Sports
Unfortunately, he seemed to have been too explosive and powerful for his own body. Just as he returned from the ACL, Rose tore his meniscus 10 games into his return in ’13/’14. That era of Bulls basketball was over. Deng feels the organization gave up on the rest of that team too soon but agrees without Rose, their chances were much lower. One of the greatest “what ifs” of the past two decades.