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Essay: Being Patient With Derrick Rose And Ricky Rubio

Editor’s Note: This article is Spencer Lund’s first for Shaky Ankles.

There’s a famous sociological investigation called the marshmallow test. It’s a pretty straightforward experiment: A marshmallow is placed in front of the subject with the warning that they’re not to eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes if they want to receive a second marshmallow. The subjects during psychologist Walter Mischel’s original test at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery in 1972 were children aged four to six.

They were given a choice between a marshmallow, an oreo cookie or a pretzel stick—depending on their own preferences (not all kids love marshmallows). It’s a basic test of deferred gratification. If the hyper-kinetic, Twitter-infused, contemporary NBA fan were to take the test, they would probably gobble the marshmallow within a couple minutes. If Bulls and Timberwolves fans want a second marshmallow, they’re going to have to wait and remain patient with their franchise point guards, both of whom are recovering from knee injuries as the NBA’s preseason ends, and the regular season is set to begin.

The Timberwolves and Bulls both enter this 2012-13 season with their best players in street clothes, but it’s not the end of the world, even if it appears that way in the short term. After Kevin Love broke two bones in his hand doing knuckle push-ups at home (much to the chagrin of head coach, Rick Adelman), the Timberwolves will now start the season without him, and their Spanish point guard extraordinaire, Ricky Rubio.

This, justifiably, has ‘Wolves fans worried they’ll miss out on the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season. Love has also spoken openly about his dissatisfaction with all the losing since coming to Minnesota in 2008 after playing on a dominant high school team and a Final Four team in his lone year at UCLA.

The Timberwolves are basically centered around their All-NBA power forward, one who was just ranked the top power forward in the game by NBA General Managers. So you can bet Love’s services will be in high demand when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. Not only that, but he’s got a player option before the fourth year of the deal he signed back in January, so if, after the 2015 season he’s had enough, he can opt out of the final year of his deal.

Combine Love’s injury, his earlier statements about the team, and their young point guard’s busted knee, and that’s a pretty good blueprint for the NBA fan blues. It’s like minute eight or nine of the marshmallow test when the five-year-old is starting to wonder whether this has all been a ruse, and he or she should just chomp down on that delicious looking confection of sugar. Maybe there isn’t a second one coming.

But hold on there, kiddos. Not to get too condescending, but when did being a Timberwolves fan require such a fatalistic vantage point? There is a bright side, and if you’ll just remain patient, your team could be very good, and that second marshmallow will be yours.

  1. The often belittled (rightfully, in some respects) David Kahn actually made some good moves this offseason, even if signing Kirilenko to almost $10 million a year seems a little hefty and Brandon Roy’s knee always remains terrifying, they’re only signed through the 2014 season, so nothing is long term. They’ve used up their cap space for now, but they’ll have $27 million less against the cap next year, and they could be $37 million under the next summer, when Love can opt out. That means even if Kirilenko and Roy don’t return to form, they’re still in a pretty good place to pick up free agents to pair with Love.
  2. Derrick Williams will see more of the court and build some confidence in Love’s absence.
  3. Love isn’t going to need surgery, so he’s projected to be back a little sooner than expected (think 15 games, rather than the initial estimate of 20).
  4. Nikola Pekovic is as tough an inside presence as you’ll find, and the heir apparent to take over Darko’s OG Eastern European title (unless Darko kills someone while with the Celtics), if he has’t already. You can’t have enough bruising slavic front court players on your roster to scare the bejesus out of the coddled AAU prep stars that come into the league. Bonus points for his badass tattoos.
  5. With Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea, the ‘Wolves are in the unique position of having the players needed to fill in for Rubio’s absence without a huge downgrade at the position. Ridnour could start on a few teams in this league, and Barea was an integral part of an NBA champion just two seasons ago.
  6. You have Kevin Love, as good a forward not named Kevin Durant or LeBron James as there is in this league. He was a big part of Team USA’s gold medal in London this past summer, and when you look at that team’s roster, you have to be happy he not only made the team, but was one of their more instrumental players. He’s a legit franchise star that could be talented enough to lead the ‘Wolves to the promised land.

The important thing now is to remain patient and give Rubio some time. Enough time so you get that second marshmallow. He. Should. Not. Be. Rushed. Rubio could possibly be a once-in-a-generation player. Maybe he won’t put up the numbers or be as important as Love, but his flair on the court combined with this group’s emphasis on team—with Rubio’s pass-first play rubbing off on everyone—plus Adelman’s wide-open offensive style, all supports what could be an early-aught Sacramento Kings 2.0, one of the best and most entertaining teams the league gave us in the last 30 years.

If Minnesota loses out on the playoffs again this year, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like 2007, when they dealt their franchise player for 20 cents on the dollar and didn’t seem to have a hope in sight (nobody expected the rookie Kevin Love to shed 30 pounds, expand his range, and still rebound like Moses). Minnesota still has some great pieces, maybe championship pieces, but fans and management need to be patient. That second marshmallow is coming in the next couple minutes, if they’ll wait for it. They’ll be competing for a high playoff seed in the next couple years if all goes according to plan. If Rubio comes back too soon, and re-aggravates his knee—always the first harbinger of doom for an elite guard, just ask Brandon Roy—Minny fans will feel infinitely worse than they do right now. All is not lost.

The same could be said for this Chicago Bulls team that’s had the best record in the league the last two years. That’s keeping in mind the league’s former MVP, Derrick Rose, only played in 39 games last season (in some of them the injuries limited his effectiveness to the point where I was actually hoping Thibs would sub in John Lucas III).

Yes, that opening playoff win was awful, and most NBA fans were pretty distraught about the loss of such an incredible talent like Rose, but Chicago is still in way better shape than a lot of other teams. Except, they’ve invested a lot of money and are tied up financially through the 2014-15 season. With Boozer, Noah, Deng, and Rose all making more than $11 million annually in that time. Deng’s contract expires at the end of next year, but Boozer, Noah, and Rose are signed through 2014-15, and Noah and Rose one year beyond that. They’ve basically mortgaged their future to win now, which doesn’t make fans very happy when you consider that all those players have experienced injuries over the years, and Rose will be lost until—at least—after the All-Star break.

Chicago is in a situation where they’ve got to win now, or else. Sounds like a recipe for gobbling that first marshmallow. Why wait and lose out on all the marshmallows when you can at least have one. Well, Derrick Rose is your franchise cornerstone, and you only come across guys like him once every decade, so hold off on the initial marshmallow, at least for the time being.

The acquisition of Kirk Hinrich shores up he Bulls’ point guard position for the time being (if he stays healthy). True, he’s not Derrick Rose—or even close to him—but he’s a dependable starter who can pass, shoot, and defend at a pretty high level (if he stays healthy). Plus, all the injuries the Bulls suffered last year appear to be finally healing.

Richard Hamilton is finally healthy for the first time in a while. Boozer is also back at 100 percent after his first two injury-plagued seasons in Chicago and that horrific contract. He could be back to the old Booze from Utah. Taj Gibson looks to be a solid role player on a championship contender, and Jimmy Butler might be just as good defensively as the departed Ronnie Brewer.

About that defense…

Tom Thibodeau is easily one of the best defensive coaches of the last decade, and he’ll get every last ounce of defensive effort from this front-court heavy line-up. Yes, they’ll struggle on offense without Rose, that much is certain, but they struggled on offense when Rose was off his game before.

The Bulls are far from perfect, but they’ll be in the playoffs even if Rose doesn’t come during the late February, early March timetable that’s been set for him. So, why come back at all?

During Michael Jordan’s second season, he broke his foot and only ended up playing 22 regular season games before dropping the still-NBA-record 63 points on the Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs. The hyper-competitive Jordan claims to have never forgiven Jerry Reinsdorf for holding him out that long in his second season (you have to believe the historically good memory of Jordan), and there’s a solid case Rose will want to come back earlier as well. I have three words for Bulls management: Don’t let him.

Derrick Rose is the long-term future of the entire Bulls franchise. He’s a point guard who’s perfectly capable of leading a team to a title, and you don’t mess around with guys like that. Yes, it will be hard to hold him back, but once he’s finally 100 percent, we could be seeing some theatrics in May and June the year when Rose is finally unleashed.

If he isn’t back for the playoffs, that’s okay too. The second marshmallow is going to come. Fans, coaches, executives, and even the players (I’m talking to you, D. Rose) need to be patient. Success will come, but knee injuries need time to properly heal, even if that means your team and franchise is playing at less than 100 percent for most, if not all, of the season.

If the Bulls and Timberwolves stumble coming out of the block this season, keep all of this in mind. The children in the Stanford Study who were able to delay gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow were shown to have unusually high levels of competency in a follow-up 15 years later. Patience really is a virtue, and for the Timberwolves and Bulls—two teams that have a base of talent with which to work from—they have to remember this when determining the best time to bring back their young point guards. Keeping that in mind, just remember the tortoise beat the hare. There’s no reason to believe things will be any different.

Spencer Lund enjoys camel cigarettes, rare steaks and the poetry of William Blake. You may have come across some of his stuff before. Twitter: @countcenci

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