Here's the thing that no Chicago Bulls fan wants to think about, much less talk about. It's too appalling to consider. What happens if Derrick Rose is never the same after he returns from his torn ACL?
I'ts not just that he's the most exciting player to don a Bulls uni since the departure of Michael Jordan. That's devastating enough. It's that he's owed $96 million in guaranteed contracts over the next five years.
Literally, his entire max contract could be a bad contract if he's not the same player.
So what happens if he's not the same player who drives through traffic and finishes like no one since Jordan? What if he's not the same electric superstar who was the youngest MVP in the history of the NBA?
Can the Bulls still win without that?
Well, it depends on how far he falls. Hopefully, and quite possibly, he can come back to full speed. Players like Jamal Crawford, Baron Davis and Kyle Lowry all had their best seasons after they tore their ACL, so it's not impossible at all.
But what happens if Rose is not the same player? How can the Bulls continue to build a contender around him?
The first thing is that Rose will need to adjust his game. He is right now zealous to drive the lane. Perhaps, in some people's minds he's over zealous.
He'll need to check that if he can no longer move so fast that he actually finishes at the rim before making his first move.
However, we've seen flashes that Rose can dominate a game by passing the ball, such as in his game against the Clippers this last season in which he dished out 16 assists.
He'll also need to continue to work on his shooting, relying more on his jump shot and less on that tear drop, pull up jumper that he uses so well.
But we know that he does have the vision when he applies it to make the players around him better.
And that's where the next part of this important equation comes in—the players around him.
A lot of hope has been put in the draft-and-stash pick from 2011, NIkola Mirotic, who has won the "Rising Star" award the last two years in the Asociación de Clubes de Baloncesto or ACB, or if you prefer, the Spainish league, widely regarded as the second-best league in the world.
Mirotic is an outstanding stretch power forward and is generally presumed to be the heir apparent to the eventually-to-be-amnestied Carlos Boozer. Most speculate that he'll become a Bull in 2014, though it's possible he could join the team in 2013.
There will also be, depending on the inevitable improvement of the Charlotte Bobcats, a reasonably high draft pick for the Bulls some time around 2014 or 2015.
That will give Rose and the Bulls two more potential star players on which to build a championship caliber team.
The other collateral they have, which has been widely overlooked, is Tom Thibodeau and his knack for player development.
He's helped players like Marcus Camby, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Derrick Rose, and yes, even Kobe Bryant, develop their games. (Kobe Bryant himself gives Thibodeau credit for help when Thibs was with the 76ers and Bryant was in high school and his dad played in Philly.)
Thibodeau helped Korver with his defense and Ronnie Brewer with his offense. He helped John Lucas III secure a two-year contract. He made Omer Asik a sought-after free agent.
In short, he turned a bunch of cast-offs and plan B free agents into the best bench in the league.
He also made Luol Deng's contract, once viewed as an albatross, the most tradable on the Bulls.
He's made Jimmy Butler into a player who can be seen to replace Luol Deng some day. He's made Joakim Noah into a top-five to top-seven center in the league.
If Derrick Rose can adjust his game. If Mirotic pans out. If the Bulls draft well with the Charlotte pick. Most importantly, if Tom Thibodeau can keep developing players the way he's shown he can, the Bulls can still compete for a title, even if Rose doesn't come back 100 percent.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!