Derrick Rose will miss significant time recovering from his torn ACL, leaving the Chicago Bulls in an interesting situation. The Bulls will be good enough to make the playoffs next season even without Rose. But Rose's injury opens up a unique opportunity for the Bulls—one the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs followed that resulted in multiple NBA Championships.
The Bulls chances of winning the NBA Championship evaporated the second Derrick Rose tore his ACL. Rose will be out of action somewhere between eight to 12 months. The Bulls odds of finishing next season with the best record in the Eastern Conference are not good. The Bulls are paying Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah a combined $39,376,700 next season. They have tied up their cap space and won't be big players in free agency this summer.
This is where the Bulls have options. They can fight hard next season and make the playoffs. The Bulls are talented enough to earn the fifth or sixth seed without a healthy Rose. The Bulls could also shelf next season, develop some of their younger players and get a lottery pick to improve the team. But for some reason, telling your fan base that the team is going to essentially throw the season for the hope of receiving a high draft pick seems ill-advised.
In 1994-95, David Robinson won the MVP and was on top of the basketball world. In 1995-96, Robinson led the Spurs to the best record in the Midwest Division, and they eventually lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Utah Jazz. The 1996-97 season ended before it really started for the Spurs. Robinson hurt his back in the preseason and suffered a broken foot when he returned against the Miami Heat. Robinson missed the rest of the season, and the Spurs finished the season with a record of 20-62. The Spurs went from the Western Conference elite to the doghouse because of Robinson's injury.
You could say the Spurs got the biggest break in the history of the NBA. The Spurs made the playoffs seven years in a row before the 1996-97 season. The first time the Spurs missed the playoffs they were rewarded with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. The rest is history. The Spurs selected Tim Duncan No. 1 and went on to become an NBA dynasty.
The Bulls are in the same situation as the 1996-97 Spurs because if they wanted, they could tank the season and get a high draft pick. That idea seems a little opportunistic. As was seen in last week's draft lottery, terrible records don't automatically result in the best draft picks. The 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were the worst team in the history of the NBA and they didn't get the No. 1 pick. The point here—if the Bulls tank next season there's a very good chance they won't get a great pick because the draft lottery is unpredictable.
Let's say the Bulls decide to shelf next season. What would Bulls' fans do if the team finished with one of the five worst records in the NBA and got the No. 6 pick in the draft? Unless it's the No. 1 pick, there's a chance the player drafted could be a bust. Ekpe Udoh was drafted No. 6 in the 2010 NBA draft. Udoh averaged 5.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 2011-12 for the Golden State Warriors. Hasheem Thabeet was the No. 2 pick in 2009. Most people don't even know what team he's on now.
It would be bad move if the Bulls decided to imitate the 1996-97 Spurs and tank the season for a high draft pick. The odds of the Bulls striking gold in the draft lottery are not good. It would also be a slap in the face to the paying fans. The whole point of sports is to win, right? The Bulls may struggle next season but they can certainly make the playoffs. Let the players go out and fight. Who knows, maybe the Bulls will have a magical season without Rose.