A lot has been made of Ric Bucher’s comments regarding his view that Derrick Rose is the best player in the NBA – better than LeBron James. Throughout this season, Bucher consistently espoused that point of view in his chats (you can find the most recent here) and on podcasts, such as his recent appearance with Dan Lebatard and Jon “Stugotz” Weiner (here).
For those unwilling/unable to listen to the podcast, I offer you this transcription:
LeBatard: Ric, you made what of yesterday’s Derrick Rose performance? I mean, that was a…he did everything but throw up on the front of his jersey
Bucher: Well you’ve already decided what he’s done, so (laugh) what do you possibly need me here for?
LeBatard: What do you…what did you think of it? Because the last time you surprised me because you thought he…he was good at the end of Game 4. Did you think he was good at the end of Game 5?
Bucher: Uh, I thought he was…uh…was he good at the end of Game 5? (pause) Uh, yeah, I thought he was as good as, uh…look, he missed a clutch free throw, um, but yeah, considering everything, I don’t see that there was much of a difference between Game 5 and Game 4.
LeBatard: Well, he, he made a lot of fouls, every big shot was made in his face, and he had turnovers at the end. And he missed the free throw. What else would he have had to have done to make you believe he hadn’t played well at the end? Urinate on himself?
Bucher: Uh, are we really having – I’m not sure why you asked me on if it was simply to tell me what you think and put it in a way that we can’t have a…I mean, are we having a conversation or are we just making a joke of this?
LeBatard: Well, what, what – no, go ahead, feel free. Tell me, tell me what you thought of the performance, though. What did you think of Chicago losing the game?
Bucher: I didn’t think that he, uh, threw up on his jersey, and I didn’t think that he urinated on himself.
LeBatard: Well, okay, what did you think of Chicago, though? How did you feel about how Chicago played?
Bucher: Uh, pretty much as I’ve thought for the better part of this series, which is that the guys, the bench that was so great during the regular season, the guys who were effective and aggressive in the starting lineup, were not the same players. And it allows Miami to focus everything on Derrick Rose and focus on him with impunity. I was really surprised at seeing the impact that Kurt Thomas and why we didn’t see him earlier in this series. I thought he gave you just a glimpse of a guy who’s going to consistently hit a mid-range shot to open up the floor a little bit and show some toughness around the rim. The difference that could make. So I’m, I’m a little quizzical as to why Tom Thibodeau didn’t…I feel like he left a couple of bullets in his chamber in not going to Kurt Thomas earlier when it became clear pretty early on that Carlos Boozer was not up to this fight.
Stugotz: Ric Bucher with us, 790 the Ticket…
LeBatard (interjecting): Do you realize what you’re saying there, though, Ric? I mean the executive of the year went and got a max player in Carlos Boozer and you’re telling me “go get Kurt Thomas in the fight.” I mean, that sounds crazy.
Bucher: I would, uh…look, it comes down to who’s playing the best. If Udonis Haslem is playing better than Chris Bosh, then I see play him. If Joel Anthony is playing better – at this point, it’s not about how much a guy’s making and…I mean, hopefully; you’re going to lose your locker room if you don’t play the guys who are ready and willing to come. And Carlos Boozer quite clearly wasn’t that, certainly not defensively. I’m astonished that, defensively during the course of this year, that they were able to still be the best defensive team in the league when you had a guy that did not step up on pick and rolls, did not defend his size, and was not a shot-blocking presence.
Stugotz: What impressed you, Ric, the most about LeBron James during this run?
Bucher: About last night, or the run overall?
Stugotz: The run through the playoffs.
Bucher: You know what’s impressed me? The level of confidence. There was times where I thought he was almost toying with the game. Um, and what it made me realize is that he thought, “You know what? We can take this Bulls team anytime that we want.” He took a – at the end of the first half, I believe it was – sort of dribbled to the right, took an off-balance three-pointer. Chicago was up by 7 or 8. It could have been a key possession in terms of just sticking it to Chicago a little bit going into the locker room at halftime. You guys have had a good first half, but you know what? You’re only up by 4. And I felt like he kind of threw away that possession, and what it made me realize is he’s not intimidated at all by whatever lead the Chicago Bulls might have. He’s fully confident that wherever this game is, the Miami Heat are going to be able to come back and get it.
And that to me, that confidence – whether it’s in taking those step-back J’s that were previously low-percentage shots for him that he almost never made, or a shot like that, it was…he believes, without a question of the doubt – without a question of a doubt – that they can get this done. And I have not always seen that consistenly from LeBron James. Certainly didn’t see it consistently with him when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. To me, that’s the biggest difference between LeBron James in Cleveland and the guy that I see with the Miami Heat.
LeBatard: Circling back around to the question I asked coarsely at the beginning of the interview, I mean, Derrick Rose missed 20 shots last night. What would he have had to do, Ric – seriously, what would he have had to do for you to say that the MVP of the league wasn’t behaving like an MVP? Again, I…
Bucher (interjecting): I’m not going to look at one game or one series and have that define where a guy is in the hierarchy. For over the course of this season, in my mind, Derrick Rose proved he was the best player in the game. And if you’re going to look at this Miami Heat series where the rest of the Chicago Bulls, quite honestly, did not show up, and he’s gotta go and run over and get the ball from a guy who can’t even hope to create a shot, can’t get a shot off, so with 7 seconds on the shot clock, Derrick Rose has to run over and get the ball from him and try to create an opening and get a shot off… Now, you’re gonna say, “What was that shot?” What oth- what else was he supposed to do? Was he supposed to just let that guy die on the vine, or was he going to try to bail him out? Derrick Rose consistently – in spite of what he had around him, in spite of the lack of those other guys showing up – continued to come to the fight.
And in this particular series, Miami Heat simply had too much for him to overcome. And yet, in spite of all that, they were in every single game down the stretch. And I can’t look at one other player on that Chicago Bulls team that was as integral to them being able to compete in every single game of this series the way that Derrick Rose was. And I look at all the other matchups – whether it was LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – they could all take 8, 9 minutes off at a time. They didn’t have to have an impact on the game and it was okay because it wasn’t going to damage the Miami Heat. Derrick Rose never had that luxury, so if you want to stop and you want to look at the numbers, and you want to say, “Well, LeBron shot this percentage, and he scored this many points, and he did this or he did that, and he defended Derrick Rose in the fourth quarter, and that makes him the better player,” – I’m good with that. I’m good with that. But I’m not going to buy into that single performance, or this series.
Was LeBron James the best player on the floor last night? Sure, I’ll say that. Is he the best player in the game? I can’t go there because of all the things that the Miami Heat do with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that allows LeBron James to be the guy that he is. And I’m – you know, quite honestly, for all that he’s done – I’m not sure that once he joined up with Dwyane Wade, and knowing what Dwyane Wade is, and knowing what he does for that team, that LeBron James can ever get there. That’s the sacrifice he made going from Cleveland to Miami, and he’ll get a ring out of it, uh, he’ll change a lot of people’s minds, but – in the bigger picture of who the best player in the game is – I don’t know how you get around the fact that he needed that other guy who already knew how to win rings to get him what he wanted.
Stugotz: Scottie Pippen thinks he can get there. I mean, Pippen thinks he’s better than Jordan and you don’t think he’s better than Rose.
Bucher: Hey, well, look, Scottie Pippen and Michael – look, are you…if you’re honestly asking me should I take Scottie Pippen’s comments seriously; I don’t know that anyone takes that seriously. I mean, let’s at least – look, I think LeBron is going to get his ring; I think Miami is going to win in 5. Now we’re suddenly going to say he’s in Jordan’s camp?
LeBatard/Stugotz (talking over each other): Well, it’s not “we”, it’s Pippen – it’s the guy most likely to be loyal to him.
Bucher: And it’s the guy who has…who, who hasn’t liked Michael Jordan for the longest time, so shouldn’t we put that opinion in context? And regardless, okay, so he played next to him. The guy won 6 rings! Are you kidding me? Now we’re suddenly – this guy doesn’t have one yet, and we’re going to say they’re in the same camp? I mean…
Stugotz: Well, Ric, you haven’t liked LeBron for a long time. Why should we take you seriously?
Bucher: You’re the one who called me. I didn’t ask to come on this show.
Stugotz: No, but I’m saying; you’re saying we shouldn’t take Scottie Pippen seriously because he’s got an ax to grind with Michael Jordan…
Stugotz: And it appears that you have an ax to grind with LeBron James, so why should we take your opinion seriously?
Bucher: Why do you think I have an ax to grind with LeBron?
Stugotz: Well it feels that way because no one, Ric – especially someone as knowledgeable as you – would sit here today and say, “Derrick Rose is a better basketball player than LeBron James.” No one. You’re saying it just to say it; you don’t even believe it.
Bucher: No, well, now you’re telling me why I’m…
Stugotz: It’s exactly what I’m doing, it’s what I’m telling you, because it’s that asinine. And you know it, right?
Bucher: Then why are you asking me a question? Look, both you and Dan have your minds made up as to what the deal is…
(Everyone talks over everyone)
Bucher: You’re asking me to come in, and you’re saying, “This is what you believe, and this is why you’re saying it, and it makes no sense, so tell us. Tell us. Defend yourself to us.” What, why?
LeBatard: Well I believe you have your mind made up, and the difference is that the data is coming in on our side, and I believe that this team is challenging basically…
Bucher: Well, wait a minute, what’s the data? What’s the data? Hold on, hold on, what’s the data?
LeBatard: The data is they knocked out the best player – alleged best player in the league – in five games.
Bucher: Okay, well weren’t – didn’t Michael Jordan when he was the best player in the game, did he go to the Finals every year?
LeBatard: I don’t think Michael Jordan ever shot 6% when being defended by somebody. I don’t think that ever happened. I don’t think that Michael Jordan missed 20 shots in an elimination game. No, I don’t think that.
Bucher: Did Michael…did, did Michael Jordan ever play with a team, uh…with teammates the caliber that Derrick Rose is? Actually, he did. Actually, he did early on in his career, and he didn’t get out of the first round.
LeBatard: And he scored 37 points a game. I mean, you keep diminishing the teammates, but Carlos Boozer went 26 and 17 in one of the games in this series.
Bucher: Oh my God, are you really…you’re gonna go – okay, and because of that 26 and 17, Carlos Boozer was the best big man on the floor? Because of the 26 and 17?
Stugotz: But Ric, when Jordan was playing – there’s such a clear-cut number one now, and it’s LeBron. When Jordan was playing there was such a clear-cut number one. Did you ever think anybody was better than Jordan at the time?
Bucher: I’m not sure how – when LeBron is playing with a Dwyane Wade, and in this particular series when Chris Bosh dominates his matchup at the power forward position, and LeBron benefits from all of that…like, now, suddenly he’s the clear-cut number one. Based on what? One series? Really?
LeBatard: Well it’s not one series…
Stugotz: It’s the body of work.
LeBatard: I mean he’s the two time reigning MVP.
Bucher: Okay, so, now he won MVP in Cleveland…
Bucher: And it was in large part because he didn’t have a group around him that could support him. I mean, this is what really kind of amuses me, is that you guys are saying, you know, that Derrick Rose can’t lose. If he wins, he’s the hero; if he loses, it’s because of the supporting cast. That’s the exact argument that everyone made for LeBron James year after year after year in Cleveland, but now it doesn’t apply…
LeBatard: Except all of LeBron’s numbers in all of those series – never was it this bad. It was never this. It was never what Derrick Rose just did against not just the Heat – the Pacers and the Hawks, too. It was never this bad.
Bucher: Did he ever play against a defense of Miami’s caliber with a supporting cast of Rose’s caliber? Now I know there’s people who are gonna say, “Hey, look, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and…” They’re going to make those comparisons. I can only compare what these Chicago players did in these playoffs, and they, by and large, did not show up. They were not the same players they were in the regular season. You can’t say that about the Cleveland Cavaliers players that showed up in Cleveland. They were who they were, at least in the regular season. And, uh, the Chicago players have not done that.
LeBatard: We appreciate the time, Ric – we went way long with you. Thank you for making time for us.
Bucher: My pleasure, guys.
Stugotz: Thank you, Ric.