Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Chicago Bulls, a team without its star.
Don’t listen to those adidas ads, no matter how awesome they are.
Derrick Rose won’t return for awhile, and when he does, he won’t be Derrick Rose. At least not at first.
The 2011 MVP and his doctors have previously set March 1st as his tentative comeback date, but are in no rush to bring him back. The Bulls, at least publicly, agree that a rush job isn’t the right play for their franchise point guard and his currently-fragile ligaments. Rose can’t cut yet — he’s scared to, one of the many psychological hurdles left to clear for a player whose quickness was taken away in an instant — and you don’t know where he’ll be physically in four months. So March 1st has been set as the deadline, even though it’s not really the deadline.
But, okay, March 1st. Let’s say he powers through his rehab over the next 16 weeks and makes tremendous progress. Let’s say he falls into the Wes Welker/Adrian Peterson class of athletes who return from knee reconstructions way earlier than a human being should. Let’s say he can play on March 2nd, when they host the Nets.
He won’t be Derrick Rose.
He’ll be slower, more tentative. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Derrick Rose play basketball, but “slow” and “tentative” aren’t tenants of his game. He’ll have to adjust to his initial limitations, and the Bulls — a team that would have played the previous 58 games without him — will have to adjust as well. The best they can hope for is 24 games of a sub-par Derrick Rose. Which means, in that best-case scenario, you’re an average team for 71% of your season.
A few reasons you might not be screwed: BUT. Let’s say the Bulls hold down the fort while Rose is gone. Let’s say they play Tom Thibodeau defense, Joakim Noah continues to improve, Carlos Boozer spends more time playing up to potential and less time being inconsistent, and Kirk Hinrich does an amicable job filling in in a city and system he’s comfortable with. Let’s say the Bulls stay afloat without Rose, he uses those last 24 games to get back into the flow of things, and is at 80% percent by the time the playoffs arrive. If all of these things fall into place, and the rest of the team stays healthy, Chicago could easily find itself in the second round of the playoffs in a very weak conference.
Actual season prediction: Someone else is bound to get hurt, and the Bulls will finish seventh in the East. If this happens, you pray the front office sticks to their mantra of not rushing their star back, and looks towards next season. With a full-strength Derrick Rose, the Bulls are a title contender in 2013-14.