DEERFIELD, Ill. - Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley?
Chicago Bulls general manager John Paxson wasn't about to announce a decision yesterday, though he might have hinted at his intentions for the No. 1 pick despite his best effort to hide them.
Surveying the microphones and notepads, he grinned and said, "If anybody thinks I'm going to give something away today, I'm not."
The Bulls will have the top pick in the NBA draft tomorrow and a big decision to make, and Paxson said he's thinking about the long term.
Considering he believes Beasley will have a more immediate impact, that could be an indication he's leaning toward Rose.
"I know we can't go wrong either way," he said. "Every team would like to think when they have a bad year, they can turn it around overnight. But we sit here and we have to look a few years down the road and how we're going to be better then to establish something."
The Beasley-Rose debate began in Chicago when the Bulls defied 1.7 percent odds and won the lottery.
Do they go with Rose, who grew up on the city's South Side and played at Simeon High School before leading Memphis to a record 38 wins and the NCAA finals in his lone season? Or Beasley, who delivered one of the best seasons ever by a college freshman?
Rose averaged 14.9 points and 4.7 assists and was better in the postseason when his scoring jumped to 20.8 per game before things ended on a sour note. He missed one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds left in regulation, and Kansas' Mario Chalmers took advantage, hitting a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime and, ultimately, the Jayhawks to the championship.
Then there's Beasley.
He became the third freshman in NCAA history to lead the nation in rebounds at 12.4 per game while averaging 26.2 points.
He had the second-most rebounds and third-most points by a freshman in NCAA history, helping Kansas State to its first NCAA tournament victory in 20 years.
Paxson said he will keep the pick unless "somebody calls and wants to offer the best player in the game," and there are no indications that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are being shopped. That leaves Chicago in a situation similar to Portland's last year.
The Trail Blazers were also a long shot to get the first pick, and they had to decide between a potentially dominant big man (Greg Oden) and perimeter player (Kevin Durant). Unlike Chicago, Portland did not have the added bonus of a coaching search.
"Thank God," Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said.
Trying to pick the cornerstone of the franchise was difficult enough. The Blazers ultimately drafted Oden, who had microfracture surgery on his right knee and missed his rookie year.
Pritchard said deciding between two players posed "a lot more challenges than you expect. But it allows you to get very deep into two players."
Pritchard told his staff last year to "keep an open mind until right before the draft." He gave Paxson this advice a few weeks ago: "Relax, you got two good guys to look at. Have fun with it."
Paxson said, "I don't think we've had as much fun as they might have. I'm a little more uptight than that."
He has reason to be following a difficult season.
After three straight playoff appearances, the Bulls expected to contend in the Eastern Conference but went 33-49 instead. Coach Scott Skiles got fired in December, and interim coach Jim Boylan was let go after the season.
They ended a drawn-out search by hiring Vinny Del Negro after high-profile courtship's with Mike D'Antoni and Doug Collins fell through. The Bulls did catch a big break when they won the lottery. Now, they need to capitalize.
If they go with Rose, the Bulls would have a crowded backcourt with Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes and Thabo Sefolosha even if restricted free agent Ben Gordon leaves.
There would be a similar scenario up front if Chicago drafts Beasley, with Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas in place along with restricted free agent Luol Deng.
Either way, the Bulls would need to make a trade, right?
"That would be the quick reaction," Paxson said. "But it's not a given. It really isn't. We haven't had one guy who has distinguished himself as the real leader on our floor. And we have to be real careful to make any snap decisions. You don't want to jump into something, making a move, and then a year from now if something doesn't work out, you don't have a roster."
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