Today is shaping up to be quite pivotal for two players on the Chicago Bulls: point guard Derrick Rose and forward James Johnson. First, Rose, among the best young players in the NBA, is expected to be named to the starting lineup of the Eastern Conference All-Star team tonight. If Derrick is granted the honor, he'll be the first Bulls player named to the All-Star starting five since Michael Jordan in 1998.
DRose's teammate James Johnson, however, is on a different path. News hit today that the 23-year-old Wyoming-born player, who was a first round draft pick in 2009, has been assigned to the Iowa Energy of the NBA's D-League -- the basketball equivalent of a baseball player being sent to the minors. He's the first Bulls player to be assigned to the D-League by the Bulls since Shannon Brown and others suffered the same fate back in the 2007-08 season.
The move, in and of itself, isn't a total shock. Johnson has played in only 12 games this season with zero starts. Although his field goal percentage isn't terrible (.425), head coach Tom Thibodeau apparently still hasn't seen enough from Johnson to give him any substantial amount of playing time.
No, what's surprising about the situation -- and impressive -- is that Johnson himself requested the demotion, according to this tweet by Comcast SportsNet's Aggrey Sam. Wow. A player asking to be sent down to a lower league to give him the playing time he needs to prove himself. How often does this happen in any sport? Not very, it would seem.
What's more, the move could benefit the Bulls in a couple of ways. If Johnson does turn things around in Iowa, he could return to the team and be yet another decent shooting option to offset the continuously disappointing performance of starting guard/forward Keith Bogans. Johnson could also improve his own trade value further down the line.
All in all, the greater minutes he'll get to play in Iowa should help James Johnson develop as a player -- something Thibodeau doesn't seem to have much patience for as he seeks to maintain the Bulls' position near the top of the Eastern Conference.