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Bulls move on without Rose; now what?
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 25
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At least there’s not going to be any more guessing games about Derrick Rose’s return from knee surgery.
Rose’s surgery for a torn meniscus, the Bulls announced Monday morning, went well and he will rehabilitate and be out for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
So now what?!
Take a deep breath, and enjoy watching two All-Stars, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, a double/double power forward in Carlos Boozer, a top defensive guard in Kirk Hinrich, a developing young swingman in Jimmy Butler and one of the top coaches in the NBA, Tom Thibodeau. I suspect we will be seeing them for months to come and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be playing for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference.
No, it’s not me who needs to take a deep breath.
Have you checked the standings?
I agree there is no more championship possibility for this Bulls team this season, and the run for this group put together in 2013-14 probably is over. When you lose your best player, a perennial All-Star and a league MVP, your prospects change. Similarly with the Heat, Thunder, Pacers, Lakers or Clippers.
All good teams get a window of championship opportunity. The Bulls’ is likely gone for this group. But it’s not gone.
Rose will return next season and should be again a high level All-Star player. The meniscus tear is relatively common in the NBA. Top stars like Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook have had it and returned to be great athletes and competitors. Rose’s repaired left knee, where he had the ACL surgery, is strong, which we’ve seen from the 11 games he played.
So you can build around Derrick Rose.
Not bad. OK, you say how can you trust it won’t happen again. You can’t. But you also don’t run away from a transcendent player. It’s not like the Bulls can with Rose under contract for three more seasons after 2013-14. But players have returned from missing multiple seasons, some to be All-Stars, like Bernard King and Grant Hill. Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed several seasons which seemed like career ending foot problems and then had a long career. You don’t have players like Derrick Rose come along often.
The Bulls were fortunate when they missed the playoffs in 2008 and got lucky in the lottery and jumped up to the top pick, and in a top draft, to get Rose.
So your core remains around Rose and given the success of a meniscus procedure, there’s no reason why Rose shouldn’t come back at full health next season.
No, it’s not good news. But it’s not the worst.
Rose should return healthy and with Joakim Noah, a high level NBA center. Obviously, there are question about Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich because they are unrestricted free agents. But I would expect them to be with the team the rest of this season.
It doesn’t mean someone like Deng couldn’t be traded. But it seems unlikely because he is a free agent. That would mean any team taking him on might see him only as a short term rental as he could leave them after this season. Plus, Deng makes $14.3 million this season. So you have to match salaries.
Teams that far under the salary cap to absorb such a salary are generally not in contention. So they would not need a player like Deng, not would it make sense to give up a young player or draft picks.
A team in contention might take a chance and give up a draft pick. But they’d have to have a $14 million player with an expiring contract they do not use, and not many teams do. Plus, it’s going to be difficult to get a 2014 draft pick and certainly an unprotected pick or one not in the 20’s.
This coming 2014 draft has been hyped to be maybe the best in 30 years. So no teams are offering picks. How would their fan base react if they gave up a 2014 pick in a great draft for a player who might leave them in three months, and isn’t the greatest impact player?
Deng is a legitimate All-Star, but he needs to play in a system with unselfish teammates. So if the Bulls can get a 2015 or 2016 pick in the 20’s. How is that making your team better?
The Bulls have Rose under contract for three more years. They obviously are not trading him. Not that they would, he is not eligible for amnesty. So you have to continue to build around him and believe the physicians who say he should be perfectly healthy.
It doesn’t make sense to trade Noah, who has value around the NBA. Because then where are you getting a center as good? Or even close. Because of their large salaries and contracts extending beyond this season, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson don’t have substantial trade value in this new salary cap era when teams are trying to cut payrolls.
There’s no offloading players to “tank,” as some like to suggest.
For one thing, it’s morally unacceptable and contrary to any athlete’s pride and conviction. And there are paying fans for the rest of the season. You owe the community a product every season.
Plus, you see teams like the Suns and 76ers who were supposed to be bad. Funny, the players and coaches don’t seem to want to lose.
So the question comes with this Bulls group. It’s one thing to lose Rose like they did in the middle of their run in 2012 after a labor-shortened season. But what about now after they talked about playing for a title and in many respects saw it as their last, best run together.
Can they maintain the discipline, enthusiasm and effort to compete?
Given the character of players the Bulls have, they should have the best chance. Plus, they have one of the best coaches in the NBA who is driven day to day and is a leader. Tom Thibodeau believes in competing day to day, which should give the Bulls an edge.
And have you taken a look at the Eastern Conference?
Yes, Miami is terrific and the favorite. The Pacers are very good, though no monolith. After that, the Nets and Knicks already are in serious trouble, the Cavs, whom many were promoting, have stumbled. The Wizards, Pistons and Raptors, the latter leading their division, are under .500. The Hawks have no better talent than the Bulls without Rose.
It’s not to say the Bulls are better than those teams; but they are not worse.
“The big thing for him is he (Rose) just has to focus in on his rehab,” Thibodeau said before the Jazz game, in which rookie Tony Snell drew his first start. “The fact that he’s already done it once, he’s got great mental toughness, he’ll be fine. This will be another bump in the road and he will get past it. I expect him to make a full recovery. For our team, I thought today we had a real good walkthrough in the ballroom, I thought the mindset is good, the character of our team is excellent, and we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead. It’s the nature of the NBA. It’s constant change, there’s always things being thrown at you, and it’s how quickly you can adapt to those changes. That’s the challenge we’re faced with right now. The games are coming, we have to be ready, we have to come out with the right mindset, and we have to go after people.’’
So, amazing as it seems, they still can play for an Eastern Conference home court advantage. Why, you ask, if they cannot win a title. Why not? No one is saying the Heat or Pacers will collapse or have injuries. But stuff happens, and the East could be relatively open. And most teams don’t play for a title each season. They still play all the games. And the Bulls had a heck of a fun season last season without a chance to play for a title.
So who knows. Like Thibodeau said, he’s just looking at the next opponent.