It was a horrible scene to watch. With 1:10 left in the first quarter and the Bulls up by 12, Derrick Rose was writhing on the ground in pain. The culprit? A torn ACL which ended his post-season before it even really began. Without Rose, the path the Bulls must climb to get their first championship since the Michael Jordan days is steeper than ever. Sure, Rose has been plagued with injuries all season and the Bulls still posted the best record in the NBA, but the playoffs are a totally different beast. If the Bulls get past the 76ers (which I think they should be able to do easily, even without their star), odds are they’ll have to go through the Boston Celtics next. As a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, I know to never write off the Celtics in the playoffs. If they get past the Celtics, they’ll very likely then face the Miami Heat and, without Derrick Rose to tie up LeBron James on defense, things really don’t look good. Sure, the Bulls win the battle of the bench with Miami, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will have a field day going up against a back-court of CJ Watson and Rip Hamilton.
Short-term, this is obviously a huge blow to the franchise. But what about in the long-term? While it’s impossible to say for sure, let’s look at some of the facts.
- The bench is locked up in the short term. Chicago’s bench has been key to their success this season as Rose has missed so much time due to injury. Luckily, Chicago has most of their key role-players locked up through next year. In fact, the only players on the Bulls not guaranteed a spot on the roster are CJ Watson, Omer Asik, Brian Scalabrine, John Lucas III and Mike James. That said, CJ Watson has a team offer, which I would expect would be picked up given Rose’s condition and Omer Asik is a restricted free agent. Worst case, the Bulls lose a solid back-up C in Asik (which I think is likely given the fact that rumors are already surfacing around teams being interested in him), their third-strong PG in John Lucas III, a human victory cigar in Scalabrine and a D-League call-up in James. Luckily for the Bulls, the team that carried them to the best record in the league will mostly be intact to start next season.
- Rose’s injury occurred in April. Yes, that’s awful for this post-season, but with an average recovery time of nine months, it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Six of those nine months will occur over the off-season, meaning that Rose will only miss three months of action and will be returning right around the All-Star break. That’s plenty of time to work him back into the rotation slowly, allow him time to rest and get his chemistry back with his teammates for another post-season run next year.
- Rose might never be the same again. Strangely enough, ACL tears aren’t very common in guards in the NBA, despite four of them occurring this season (Rose, Rubio, Maynor and Shumpert). That leaves two players in NBA history being good examples of how a PG can bounce back from this type of injury, Tim Hardaway and Shaun Livingston. Given that Livingston’s injury was a debilitating injury that also involved injuries to his MCL, it’s not the best example, which pretty much leaves Hardaway. While Hardaway eventually returned to his all-star form, it took multiple seasons as he had to adapt his game. He was no longer as explosive or quick as he once was. This doesn’t bode well for Rose. Take away Rose’s speed and explosiveness and he’ll need to develop as a passer. He’ll need to work on his three point shot. And that will take time. Even next year, Chicago will be hurting from this injury.
- The bench isn’t locked up for all that long. Let’s say that it takes Rose at least another season to adapt his game and to get close to what he was before. After next year, Korver, Brewer and Watson are free agents and Gibson will be a restricted free agent. Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng will be in the final year of their contracts. There’s a very good chance that this team could be pulled apart by free agency if Derrick Rose takes any considerable amount of time to fully recover from this injury.
- Rose’s contract. At the time, Rose’s monster five year, $95 million contract made sense. But if he comes back and isn’t playing at that same MVP level? Not so much. Especially because every dollar paid to Rose is another dollar not paid to lock-down the guys I mentioned above. If Chicago under-performs while these guys continue to break-out, they’re going to get offers that Chicago just can’t match.
Look, I’m not trying to be the bearer of bad news or a pessimist, but this injury is a serious problem for Chicago. Chicago has a team that’s ready to win now and is built as such. Unfortunately, this injury shifts Chicago’s entire championship opportunity window back to at least the 2013-2014 season, which could cause everything to implode. And while I hope that isn’t the case, things don’t look good.
Cheer me up, you guys. Tell me I’m wrong. Please.