- Melissa Isaacson, espnW.com
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CHICAGO -- Seldom has there been a better opportunity for Kobe Bryant to offer advice and slide in a Nike commercial at the same time.
He was talking about Bulls second-year point guard Derrick Rose, currently enduring the worst identity crisis of his career, and what suggestion he would offer Rose if asked.
"Just do it," Bryant said after the Lakers' shootaround at the United Center before Tuesday night's game with the Bulls.
Of course, he makes it sound as easy as he makes it look. Bryant was 17 years old when the Lakers drafted him and though he didn't become a starter until his third season, it wasn't long before he was being called a ball hog, a label he still wears with equal parts indifference and defiance.
"I don't know, I just did it," he said of taking over games at a young age. "I knew I was going to go out there and work and I wanted to win. I felt like I wanted to win more than some of my teammates at times, and that kind of made me a little upset. But however they took it, they took it."
Now 31 years old, Bryant finds it somewhat amusing that Rose considers him an idol.
"It's pretty crazy," he said. "It just shows you how young the NBA has gotten or how old I've gotten. I'm only 31, but it feels like I'm 37, 38. But I'm honored to be viewed that way."
Bryant twice visited Simeon High when Rose attended, and the two shot a video game commercial together this past summer. And what wisdom did Bryant impart?
"Just making sure he stays focused on what got him here," Bryant said. "There are so many things when you get to this level, people pulling you left and right, you just have to remember what's important."
What is important currently is that going into Tuesday night's game, Rose's team had lost 10 of 12 games since last playing the Lakers in L.A. in November; media and fans alike are calling for coach Vinny Del Negro's job; and there are just as many questions regarding Rose.
Specifically, why isn't he taking over games, which he's capable of doing?
On Tuesday, Rose said he was restricted by the position he plays.
"People are saying they want me to shoot more, but I'm a point guard. I can't do that," he said. "I've got to pass to people and get people open. ... If I was a 2-guard, it would be something else."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson is sympathetic.
"You have to beat five guys in an NBA basketball game," said the former Bulls coach. "It's not just the [opposing] point guard who's defending against you. It's a number of people out there, so it requires a substantial effort to be able to break the whole team down.
"Chris Paul has been able to do a lot with steals and assists in being the kind of player that can generate a lot of stuff. But it looks like some stuff is catching up with him this year. So it's not an easy chore for anybody, let alone a point guard."
Bryant, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is perhaps an unfair comparison to Rose, who is 3 inches shorter and indeed, has different responsibilities. But that's where Del Negro comes in, where someone (if not Del Negro) needs to whisper loudly in Rose's ear that whatever the Bulls' traditional point guard offense may dictate, it is OK -- no, it is incumbent -- for him to take the ball to the hole.
When asked if Rose had the green light, Del Negro was incredulous.
"What do you think?" he said.
But it's not what reporters or fans think that's important. It is what Rose thinks is permitted and what is expected, and clearly, there is a disconnect there.
"Just do it," Bryant repeated. "Just do the best job you can, go as hard as you possibly can, practice as hard as you possibly can. Just leave it all out there on the floor. That's all you can ask of yourself at the end of the day. If you're comfortable going home, looking in the mirror and saying you played 100 percent every single night, that's fine.
"He has the talent to do it. With him, it's just going out there and doing it. I think it's tough for a younger player to have that confidence in himself to be able to do it, but he has all the skills for it."
There is no reason Rose should lack the confidence necessary, and if he does, then it has eroded since coming to the Bulls last season. If that's the case, then it's a far bigger sin for Del Negro and the organization than losing 10 of the past 12.
Jackson, who didn't catch up with Bryant and Michael Jordan until their fourth years in the league, said he understood Rose's reluctance to take over.
"It's disrespectful," Jackson said. "Taking a lot of shots or doing everything, it limits what other guys can do. A full-functioning offense should hopefully get everybody involved."
Involved yes, but neither Bryant nor Jordan cared how fully functioning their teams' offenses were and at last count, they had 10 NBA titles between them.
"In just his second year, this is still pretty much unchartered territory for him," Jackson said of Rose, "so this is something he'll adjust to and he'll be able to adapt as he goes along."
Not if someone fails to tell him to just do it, he won't.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com
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