Rose’s Return Can’t Save These Bulls
At some point this season, Derrick Rose is going to make his return to the Chicago Bulls, probably sometime after the All-Star break, and there are more than a few people that believe he’ll make a big enough difference to make the Bulls an Eastern Conference favorite again.
Those people are probably wrong.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is already squeezing the most out of his under-stocked team, using defense as a vehicle that has driven them to a respectable 16-12 record and first place in the Central Division. That’s despite injuries to various players and a bench rotation that is nowhere near as deep and effective as it was a year ago.
However, if the Bulls teams of the last two years weren’t good enough to contend with the Miami HEAT, there isn’t a lot of evidence that the current iteration is any better, even with Rose back in the fold. Chicago, as usual, is playing above their talent level, while the HEAT have looked downright bored at times this year and still have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Come postseason, Miami should be borderline frightening again, especially if LeBron James returns to the form he exhibited in last year’s playoffs. Any expectations for the Bulls to best them in a seven-game series should be seriously tempered.
But Chicago’s problems—even with Rose—run deeper than their shallow roster and stiff competition. Concerns about how Rose will adapt his game post-injury, for example, are real. Will he rely more heavily on his jumpshot to minimize the risks associated with playing the type of physical, athletic game he was accustomed to in his first few seasons in the league? Will that athleticism be at all diminished? Are the 4-6 weeks of regular season play he’s expected to get in preparation of the postseason enough for him to fully trust his lateral movement?
While Adrian Peterson has shown in the NFL that MVP-quality performances are possible in the wake of a major knee injury, these questions for Rose are perfectly fair. Basketball and football put different strain on the ligaments in the knee, and while Rose’s long-term prognosis looks fine, the short-term is the likely problem; with no camp and almost an entire year away from the game, how good can Rose possibly be right away?
In short, with Rose needing time to get his groove back, and with a significantly less talented roster than a year ago, and with the HEAT still reigning supreme in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls just don’t look much at all like a real championship contender this season, even with their All-Star point guard back in the mix two or three months from now.
They were a fun team to root for in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but a lot has changed since Rose’s injury and Chicago’s subsequent first-round postseason loss this past April. Still, getting Rose back will inject a lot of excitement into the team and the city, and who knows what a little motivation could do for this group? Anything’s possible in the NBA, but the Bulls as 2013 NBA champions feels a lot lower on the list of those possibilities than them as a middle-of-the-road playoff team.
It’s a painful truth, but a truth all the same. That doesn’t make Rose’s impending comeback any less exciting, though, and if anyone is going to push the Bulls up an echelon in their conference, Rose would be the guy to do it.