Same city. Same high school. Same injury. Hopefully, different story. Former Chicago Bull and NBA MVP Derrick Rose came home to the Windy City following his prestigious career at Simeon high school after just one season away at Memphis. He lasted 8 seasons before multiple ACL injuries, arrogance, Reggie Rose, and eventually, a lack of ability forced him out of the city where he was once beloved. Jabari Parker, who graduated from Simeon just five years after Rose, is now following in the former stars footsteps by returning home after four seasons in Milwaukee after signing a 2-year, $40 million deal three weeks ago. Hopefully, his return has a happy ending.
Just four short years ago, Parker was considered to be a NBA franchise level player coming out of Duke following a sensational freshman season. At 6’8″ and 250 pounds, Parker possessed elite size for a wing combined with an unstoppable arsenal of offensive tools at his disposal. He was compared to Carmelo Anthony (please keep in mind that was a good thing 4 years ago) and projected to be one of the top scorers in the league for the next decade. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the second pick of the 2014 NBA draft, one pick before the Philadelphia 76ers selected the process himself, Joel Embied. It was Parker, not Giannas Antetokounmpo, who at the time Parker was drafted had just completed an underwhelming rookie season, who was destined to the face of the Milwaukee Bucks for the foreseeable future. Like most things in life, things didn’t go exactly according to plan.
Over the next four years, Antetokounmpo blossomed into one of the top players in the NBA, as Parker eventually was forced into the sidekick role he was never supposed to be in. As Antetokounmpo’s game exponentially improved year over year, Parker experienced some ups and downs during the his first couple of seasons seasons, including a torn ACL midway 25 games into his rookie season. However, he recovered and by year three, really had started to hit his stride. Averaging over 20 points per game and around 6 rebounds, Parker looked every bit the player he projected to be. Then, right before the all-star break, he tore his ACL in his left knee. For the second time. In three seasons. That injury kept him out for over half of the 2018 season, limiting him to just 31 games. Not only that, but his role had the team drastically diminished, as he started only three games. Players had been brought in to replace him. He was no longer the face of the franchise or even the secondary option in the offense. Hell, he was no longer even a starter. At the age of 23, Parker had fallen out of favor in Milwaukee.
High lottery pick. Out of Chicago. Face of the franchise. Flashes of all-star potential. Multiple ACL injuries. Falling out of favor with a city that once embraced them. Leaving that city to try and revive their career with another team. Sounds like a poor man’s version of the Derrick Rose saga. We know how that turned out (think of the opening scene of any Final Destination movie and you get the picture). Will history repeat itself with Parker? Will he be able to revive his career in Chicago? Or are we just inheriting Milwaukee’s problem like New York and then Minnesota, inherited ours?
Personally, I love the deal. Anytime you can add a 23-year old former #2 pick in the NBA draft, you do it. It is a low risk high reward play, as the 2nd year team option provides us with flexibility to get out of this next summer if things take a Rose like turn for the worst. Adding Parker provides our offense with yet another weapon and will immediately be the most talented wing the Bulls have had since Luol Deng (please keep in mind is a compliment. Peak Luol Deng is one of the more underrated NBA players of the last 20 years. If the Bulls didn’t nearly kill him with that ill-advised spinal tap during the 2013 playoffs, I think Deng has a much more different second half of his career. Still waiting on a lawsuit to emerge from that). No more Paul Zisper at the three (Intent there is to offend. He has no business being in the NBA). Parker, although slow to get back into the swing of things last season came on strong near the end of the season and averaged 19 points per game in the month of April, shooting 50% from the field and 46% from three. I can get on board with those numbers.
Yes, he lacks defense ability, and yes, the Bulls were already struggling in terms of perimeter defense. However, adding him to our team provides the Bulls with a starting lineup with tremendous upside. Upside is a slippery slope, but after last year, I am willing to die on that slope. The worst case scenario is that they are a bad team, they don’t make the playoffs, but they are at least fun to watch (actually, the actual worst case scenario would be that Parker and LaVine both tear their ACLs in the season opener Gordon Hayward style, Lauri Markkanen quits the Bulls to go play professionally in Finland, and Wendell Carter Jr. is the biggest bust to come out of Duke since Jahil Okafor). The best case scenario; the Bulls are a offensive juggernaut who are fun to watch, make the playoffs (and win at least 2 games in the 1st round), and become serious playoff contenders a few years down the road. It sounds pretty wild right now, but is it not out of the question.
Really, think about it; the oldest player in our starting lineup is 24-year old point guard Kris Dunn, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. That is the oldest. Somehow LaVine is only 23. Markkanen has only be able to drink legally in the United States since May and Carter Jr. is still in pampers. At 23, Parker fits right in with a group that is young, talented, and set up to grow together over the next several years. Every player besides Dunn has potential to be named an all-star within the next few years (by no means is that a knock on Dunn, but the point guard position is loaded and although I think he can be a reliable starter in today’s NBA, he does not seem like the guy who is going to take an all-star spot away from Kyrie Irving or John Wall anytime soon). The talent is there. The upside is high. The defense is terrible. The Bulls will be at minimum entertaining, if not, pretty dam good.
Rose’s homecoming went well at first, but eventually flamed out before it could ever materialize into championships. The World Cup did not make it home to England this summer. The girl I asked to Homecoming sophomore year of high school said no. Do homecomings ever end well? For Parker’s sake, I sure hope so.