An early look at the Bulls without Derrick Rose


May 15

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And nooowwwwwwwwww, the starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls:

At forward from Duke, 6-9, No. 5, Carlos Boozer!

A 6-8 forward from Mt. Zion Christian Academy, No. 6, Tracy McGrady!

The man in the middle from Florida, 6-11, No. 13, Joakim Noah!

At guard, 6-7 from Connecticut, No. 32, Richard Hamilton!

From Chicago, a 6-2 guard, No. 2… Jannero Pargo?

And off the bench, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Mike Bibby and Sasha Pavlovic?

Perhaps at least until Derrick Rose and Luol Deng come back from injuries, Rose from his ACL tear and Deng assuming he has surgery on his left wrist.

And they will be back, which is the good news. The encouraging news Tuesday during a press conference with Bulls physician Dr. Brian Cole at Rush University Medical Center was that Rose has an excellent chance of returning to play at his previous exceptionally high level, though Cole estimated the time frame Rose would be out as eight to 12 months.

“The surgery (last Saturday) went extremely well, no surprises,” Cole said. “I’d say (the surgery) was pretty routine. At this point we’re very optimistic. If you think back to where we were 20, 30 years ago, this was clearly a career-ending injury.

“While hopefully he’ll be at a very high level at 12 months, it still may take slightly longer to be at his preinjury level,” Cole added. “That’s not uncommon of athletes of this caliber. It’s impossible to predict tomorrow. Statistically, he should be that player and then some. That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. It’s a whole lot better than we were accustomed a few years ago.

“The good news is he’s an incredible athlete, he’s an incredible hard worker and he wants this more than anything,” said Cole. “We’re not going to rush it. People do get back after six months, but it is not common because the downside of not being fully prepared is we want to zero out the risk.

“Every athlete has a different story and every injury is different,” said Cole. “Suffice it to say he probably will get back and if we think he’s safe next season, he’ll go back next season. Even if he’s not at the same capability the expectation is he’ll get there over some near term time.”

So it’s not going to be a long-term disaster for the Bulls, though it is heartbreaking for the team to watch these Eastern Conference mud wrestling events and imagine how easily the Bulls could have blown through these playoffs with Rose. Heck, the way it looks with both series even and no one basically able to score 80 points that the Bulls could get to the Finals even without Rose assuming they had Noah. Yes, as coach Tom Thibodeau likes to say, it would have been more than enough.

By the way, GM Gar Forman attended the press conference and in answer to a query about Thibodeau’s contract said his contract option would be picked up. Which, of course, was obvious as the Bulls only wouldn’t be picking it up if they were firing him. Forman said the team plans to resume extension conversations with Thibodeau this spring and summer. Thibodeau also attended and said no one would be skipping steps. Or, at least, I thought he did.

Anyway, while the immediate interest was about Rose and it all sounded pretty positive given the massive depression the injury caused, the answers also raised a lot of questions.

With that eight to 12-month timetable, that means somewhere between the last week of December and the last week of April. We know Rose is going to put everything into this and want to get back quickly. And Cole did say part of accelerating his recovery was getting back to playing. Though the Cole added “not 40 minutes.”

Oh, no, another minutes limitation?

We know from Bulls history that hasn’t worked out very well.

Rose certainly would want to play as soon as possible. But we also know, and Cole confirmed, that athletes after this sort of surgery don’t truly regain their level of play until that second season back.

This reminds me a bit of Michael Jordan’s broken foot in 1985.

It was obviously a much less severe injury. But Jordan was just short of 23 at the time, about the same as Rose. The Bulls were concerned about long-term consequences as they were building their future around Jordan and didn’t want to risk anything.

Similarly, Forman said Tuesday, “Putting this team together, everything was looking at the big picture, long-term. I think it’s our job to stay focused on that and to continue to look at what we feel is a long window of opportunity to have success. And that’s how we’ll approach it. Have we taken a hit in the short-term? Without question. Will we make decisions based on the short-term? We won’t.

“All our decisions will be based long-term,” said Forman, “and a big part of that is Derrick, who we feel is going to be a special player for us for the next 10, 15 years.”

The Bulls felt the same way in 1985 with Jordan. So they basically told him to take the year off as they were going nowhere, anyway, and why risk injury? The famous conversation was the Bulls’ doctors telling Jordan he had a 10 percent chance of a career ending injury if he played. Jordan responded it meant it was 90 percent he didn’t, so he was playing.

Jordan finally did, though there was the minutes limitation which became controversial. Jordan would score 63 points in a playoff game, but the Bulls would be swept in the first round. So what if Jordan had stayed out and the Bulls got into the lottery and got a higher draft pick? What if they got Brad Daugherty, Chuck Person or Ron Harper? Would it have taken five years to get to a title as it did after they drafted Brad Sellers?

What would have happened to the Spurs if David Robinson didn’t miss almost the entire 1996-97 season and then Sean Elliott opt for season ending surgery in February? They had won 59 games the previous season and went to 20. But that got them into the lottery and they lucked into Tim Duncan even though they didn’t have the poorest record. And then Robinson won his only two titles.

And what if the Bulls do miss the playoffs and get into the lottery and then sitting there is big man Nerlens Noel from Kentucky or guard Shabazz Muhammad from UCLA? As good as the Bulls are, they don’t have that second star. Maybe that is the best and only way to get him. And here’s a chance next season. Do you take it?

Is it worth bringing Rose back and getting to eighth place?

Maybe sixth or seventh as you’d then presumably avoid Miami and with Rose back for a few months maybe you make a surprise playoff run. And maybe you land one of those late season buyout guys with Rose coming back and someone seeing a chance to make a run.

But then are you endangering Rose because you know he’ll push hard in big games? The Bulls’ doctors and trainers never would let him play if they weren’t confident he was recovered. But what happens if you extend yourself then? Who knows the answer? I don’t.

And what will the season be like with the spectre of a Rose return hanging over the players every day. Can you concentrate appropriately with all the questions about Derrick and what day and each daily scoop of it being three weeks, four days, seven months, it has been learned. Until it hasn’t been.

As for Deng, there’s been this question of whether he should compete in the Olympics for England, where his family sought asylum from civil war in Sudan. Or whether he should have surgery now to be ready for next season with Rose out at the start?

Forman was vague and said, “With this going on we haven’t had a chance to sit down with Luol. We will next week. Our biggest concern with Luol is his health. To get with Luol and see where he’s at and come up with a plan going forward. It would be premature to speculate on anything. We know it’s important to him and want to support our players. The biggest thing is his health and that it’s important he’s healthy.”

Deng said unequivocally he plans to play and I don’t see any way the Bulls could or should stop him. He said he’ll decide on whether he needs surgery after the Olympics.

The NBA made an agreement with FIBA not to block its players from competing, so the Bulls are not even permitted to suggest to Deng not to go. They could file an arbitration claiming he was injured, but they’d certainly lose that as they let him play for months after the injury. And then you’d probably forever alienate one of your captains and top competitors. Deng has made no secret this is a lifeline dream.

And then if you forced him some way not to play, how in good conscious could you then trade him, which is always possible given the uncertainty with Rose out? You can’t block that possibility for any player on the roster.

Deng is going to play and should play given what that country has meant to his family. Plus, it is the host country, and from what I’ve seen of their team they won’t be playing long.

So it comes to next season, and it seems to me Forman made it clear even without saying anything specific that this is about the long term with Rose and that makes sense to me. Who loses the league MVP and then is a title contender while he recuperates?

No one. It isn’t done.

The bigger point is you can’t risk what you have going forward with Rose to try to squeeze out a few higher places in the standings while he is out.

“Obviously, short-term we’re going to take a hit,” Forman said. “Our thinking in general long-term won’t change at all. Short-term, you don’t replace Derrick and what he brings to the team and the production. We’re going to have to fill that spot and scrape it together with our other guys in the mean time.”

It then comes to payroll, which ranks now among the highest in the NBA. I know the fan poll suggests using amnesty on Carlos Boozer. It’s not happening because it only would hurt the team, for one thing.

The Bulls payroll with cap holds if they want to try to resign Omer Asik and offer an extension to Taj Gibson and room for a No. 1 draft pick is around the $70 million luxury tax figure. If they let go of Boozer — they’d still have to pay him — they’d go down to just below the cap and have maybe $2 million or $3 million to sign one player. And you don’t get much for that. Think of your Eduardo Najera. And then how do you replace Boozer’s scoring? I would assume there’s no way the Bulls are even thinking of this. Because it would be stupid. Boozer will be crucial next season without Rose and perhaps Deng early.

The Bulls have few options other than waiting out the summer and seeing what veterans cannot get deals and are willing to take a chance on a minimum deal and maybe even get a starting spot for a while to show their worth and then get a bigger deal in a year.

I’ve never been a fan of the post-injury, post-Houston McGrady. But Thibodeau coached him and we know if he coached a player that player has a chance to be on his team or staff. If President Obama loses, I assume he’ll be lobbying for Arne Duncan.

But McGrady showed some decent form in Atlanta, and the Bulls like to bring back guys who know their system. So Pargo could fill in at point some. This is assuming the Bulls don’t return some of the current reserves. But no decisions apparently have been made on any.

But if they are looking at point guards, they aren’t looking at higher salaried guys for short term pre-Rose like Steve Nash, Ray Felton or Andre Miller, all of whom are seeking substantial deals and likely will get them. The point guards most likely to be available include the likes Nate Robinson, Bibby, Jamaal Tinsley, Anthony Carter, Mike James and Keyon Dooling. Maybe guys like Marquis Daniels or Pavlovic if they are looking for a Deng fill in depending on what position the Bulls see for Jimmy Butler.

This is going to be tough.

The Bulls do have a competitive core in Noah, Boozer, Gibson, Hamilton, Asik and Butler and I see no reason why they can’t compete for a playoff spot with that main group and Deng coming in at some point in a month or two. Heck, watching these playoffs that group ought to be able to win a round. Sure, scoring would be an issue. But who’s scoring in these Eastern playoffs?

And then perhaps you get lucky. Chicago and the Bulls with Rose out, say for a few months, is a heck of a stage for someone to get noticed and perhaps enhance their career.

I’ve got questions. I don’t have many answers. Rose will be back and should be good, which is the best news. It should, at least, be interesting to see what occurs until then.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: