Derrick Rose poised to take next step

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Derrick Rose turns 22 next week. You forget how young he is sometimes. But the third-year point guard carries with him a heavy burden.

Call it Kevin Durant Syndrome.

Can Rose stay humble and likable, and guy-next-door-nice, while still developing to become one of the best players in the NBA? Can he be as ruthless on the court as Kobe Bryant, as imposing as LeBron James?

Just how do you balance humility and ego? Can Rose be the heir to the Air, without loading up on hubris?

At the Bulls' media day on Monday afternoon, Rose seems to still have his head on straight after a whirlwind summer in which he started on a young national team, won a world championship and boosted his international profile with a series of new commercials and endorsements.

His evolution as a player has been both striking and unambiguous. In the past four years, he's gone from Chicago prep star to No. 1 pick in the NBA draft to Rookie of the Year to All-Star to world champion.

What's next? Well, his answer might surprise you if you only know him from sound bites.

"The way I look at it, within myself, why can't I be the MVP of the league?" he said. "Why can't I be the best player in the league? Why? Why can't I do that?"

The cynic would say that road goes through LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, etc.

But for the Bulls to compete with the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics in the East, not to mention the Los Angeles Lakers, they need Rose to have that ego, at least on the floor. To be sure, he's never doubted his own abilities. He just doesn't broadcast them with the kind of statement he made at the dais Monday at the Berto Center.

And that was a very good sign for the ascending Bulls.

"I think Derrick is an unbelievable talent," Joakim Noah said. "Things have really changed around here since he's come to Chicago. If Derrick feels that way, that's good for us."

Rose's Q rating is certainly skyrocketing, which is a compliment to his game and his reputation.

Last season, Rose had one of the top-selling jerseys in the league en route to his first All-Star nod. He's been in commercials for adidas, an NBA video game and a sports drink. He's doing more and more national interviews.

For a soft-spoken guy, he's getting awfully comfortable in the spotlight.

"At first, when I came into the league, I wasn't used to it," Rose said. "I didn't like it like that. But that's the stuff people don't want to do. So I'm willing to do it. It'll put me on the next level and show people that I'm into it, putting the Bulls out there."

Does he want to be the guy kids in Chicago look up to, like Michael Jordan was 15, 20 years ago?

"I would love that," he said. "I'm not even near the Jordan brand. Just to be out there doing the commercials, I think you'll be seeing me [doing] a lot on TV this season."

Taj Gibson, one of Rose's closer friends on the Bulls, got a chance to show him around New York City this summer, when the national team rolled through. Gibson also hung out with him at last season's All-Star game in Dallas. He said Rose certainly gets noticed when he's outside of Chicago.

"It's the same level as being around LeBron," Gibson said. "He's that noticeable. People are going to come up. But he's real cordial and he talks to everybody."

Just like a few Chicago athletes we know, right?

While the Bears prepared to take on the Green Bay Packers in what may be a season-defining game, and the Blackhawks get ready to defend the Stanley Cup in front of sold-out crowds, the Bulls remain, to me, the most intriguing team in town.

This is an exciting, aesthetically pleasing team on the upswing. The Bulls might not be at the same level as the Heat or the Lakers, but they're not that far behind, at least in minds of their players.

"We want to be one of the best teams in the NBA," Rose said. "There are no excuses now. We've got everything new -- new players and new coaches. We've just got to go out there and hold everybody accountable and just play hard the whole game, and the whole season."

The Bulls' additions of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson don't have the panache of the Hollywood Heat's make-over, but Rose is excited about the reinforcements.

"They can take a lot of pressure off me during the game," he said. "Last year, people were keying in on me, just making sure if they stopped me, they could stop the team. Now, we've got Booz, where he could change the game on the inside and the rebounding side, and Korver and C.J., with their shooting, and Brewer with his defense and intensity."

Aside from a still-improving long-range jumper, Rose's defense is the area he needs to improve on to make the jump into the superstar category. It's not a cause for concern, but it is a hole in his game.

His new coach, Tom Thibodeau, is known for teaching defense during his decades as an NBA assistant. He liked what he saw from Rose this summer with the national team.

"The challenge for him is to be a complete player," Thibodeau said. "He can grow in that area. I think he showed us that with Team USA. I thought his defense was terrific, his ball pressure was great. I thought he challenged shots terrifically. Those are things we're going to ask him to do here."

While Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen took great pride in their "doberman" defense, Rose's defensive goals sound less intense.

"Defensively, I think I can be a hassle on the court, where I can bother most point guards and still catch up to them," he said.

You'd like to hear him talk more about shutting down opposing guards, rather than bothering them. But in reality, Rose's words, whether humble or boastful, don't really matter. If Rose really wants to be the best player in the league and lead the Bulls back to the NBA Finals, his play will have to do the talking for him.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.