It was all good just a week ago.
Heading into last Monday's game against Charlotte at the United Center, which became their fifth straight win by the end of the night, the Bulls' biggest concern about Derrick Rose was whether, after hitting a career-high six three-pointers to halt the rival Pacers' undefeated start to the regular season, he would rediscover his mid-range game. Now, after the team's announcement that the former league MVP will miss the remainder of this season following successful surgery to repair his torn right medial meniscus, an injury suffered during Friday's loss in Portland, the Bulls are faced with much tougher dilemmas.
The one absolutely correct decision already made was to re-attach Rose's meniscus, as opposed to removing it. Until the actual procedure Monday morning, it was unknown whether Bulls team physician Dr. Brian Cole, who also performed Rose's left-ACL surgery back in May of 2012, would be able to do so. But posed with the option to remove Rose's meniscus--leading to a shorter recovery process, but likely future recurring issues as his career progresses--or repair it, ending his season due to a lengthier rehabilitation, this was a no-brainer.
Even with the controversy over the point guard missing all of last season lingering, rushing back to attempt to salvage the Bulls' championship hopes would have been a foolhardy, short-sighted endeavor. Rose and the organization correctly prioritized his long-term career and even with just 50 regular-season games in three seasons, including the current one, under his belt, both the Chicago native and his hometown franchise have little choice but to bank on him returning to an elite level after a second major surgery and subsequent extended absence.
But what if the 25-year-old doesn't regain his previous form? That has to be considered after witnessing Rose struggle before this latest setback and taking into consideration the mental fatigue of two comebacks, let alone the concern of getting hurt again.
And when Rose does return, it will likely be to a very different Bulls team. Management could choose to keep the band together, by re-signing Luol Deng to a contract extension--the All-Star small forward would appear to have the leverage in that scenario--and resisting using the amnesty clause on the final year of Carlos Boozer's contract. But if those things do happen, it would be more of a last-resort situation, in which no other moves were available to be made.
Exploratory phone calls around the league, gauging what assets could be had in return for Boozer and Deng, an unrestricted free agent next summer, are or will be made in the near future, as saving money and getting under the luxury tax become more important than the Bulls' on-court product, now that championship expectations have been extinguished in the wake of Rose's injury. Finding teams willing to take on a one-year rental in Deng's case and in Boozer's, a productive power forward with a salary that doesn't quite match his game, will be tough, especially as the Bulls won't want to take back significant salary, particularly not for multiple seasons.
This is the punitive damage from Rose's injury. As much as sympathy for humble superstar abounds throughout the organization, the franchise's transition period has been accelerated, complete with a coach much better suited to guide a group with lofty aspirations than a team mired in mediocrity, perhaps in the process of losing key components as the season goes along.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's miraculous work last season was admirable, but the circumstances were different, as the roster was structured in a way that the team would remain competitive without Rose, as opposed to the current personnel, which is built to complement his talents, as evidenced by the addition of Mike Dunleavy Jr., known for his spot-up shooting, and the departures of off-the-dribble scorers Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli.
As tough-minded and prideful as the likes of Deng, Boozer, All-Star center Joakim Noah, top reserve Taj Gibson and Rose's de facto replacement, veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich have proven to be, they have to be weary of having to put forth such workmanlike efforts on a nightly basis, simply to stay afloat, knowing that there's no virtuoso performance coming from their superstar, the one player on the roster regularly capable of taking over games. Thibodeau can shepherd this bunch into the playoffs again--the East is so bad as a whole after Miami and Indiana that contending for home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason is a possibility--but in the grand scheme of things, that's not much of an accomplishment.
Beyond Jimmy Butler--the third-year swingman last played a week ago, when he suffered a turf-toe injury in the Charlotte victory, causing him to miss the ongoing "Circus Trip"--the Bulls' young talent, including second-year point guard Marquis Teague and rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, is unproven. While in theory it could be a developmental season, Thibodeau will remain partial to veteran players, so any opportunity to procure something higher than their expected middle-of-the-first-round selection in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft must be seized upon, so as to bring in a pro-ready youngster with ability that can't be denied.
Looking toward the future, there's a number of directions the Bulls can take while Rose recovers. All isn't lost, but a combination of patience and decisive strategy will have to be employed in order for the organization to land on its feet in the aftermath of yet another devastating obstacle in the path of the face of the franchise.
Things can change very quickly in a week's time, indeed.