One year ago, the future looked as bright as it had been for the Chicago Bulls since Michael Jordan retired. Derrick Rose was the reigning MVP, and the young and loaded Bulls had advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing with the league's best record.
It was time to start thinking a new era could be ushered in for the Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose playing the role of Michael Jordan.
Last season, in spite of a plethora of injuries to their superstar, the Bulls rode their vaunted "Bench Mob" to the precipice of the NBA's regular season for the second straight season, making Tom Thibodeau the first coach in NBA history to lead the league in wins his first two seasons and become the fastest coach in history to win 100 games.
After finally getting healthy, the Bulls entered Game 1 of the their playoffs with everyone intact. They looked spectacular through the majority of the game. Then, with time winding down and the game well in hand, Rose jumped, faked a shot, and then passed the ball out.
As he came down, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
Then, the Bulls went into an offseason "cleanup" mode, ridding themselves of the majority of the "Bench Mob" which had done so much to help Chicago win so many games during the previous season.
Suddenly, the Bulls are sans-Rose for the first part of the season and are looking at a new collection of players to be the next "Bench Mob."
There is one attribute that Rose shares with Jordan, perhaps more than any player since him. He has the same ability to maneuver through traffic and get his shot to go in around a multitude of defenders that Jordan had.
That was perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Jordan, or "early Jordan," anyway, and seeing a player in a Bulls uniform made it hard to not make the comparison, particularly with the Bulls winning so many games.
The ACL tear, though, makes one take measure of the likelihood of whether Rose could, or even should, attack the rim with such reckless abandon. While he has the speed and agility Jordan had, he is not as tall and not as big as Jordan was.
He simply isn't equipped to take the same kind of abuse.
Furthermore, if he has room to grow as a player, it's through his passing and his running of the offense. We've seen flashes, such as in his masterpiece performance against Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers this year, that indicate what kind of player he could be.
The bad news is we might not see the slashing to the rim Rose of 2011, who won the MVP again, except in bursts, and perhaps late in games when the Bulls need him to carry the team.
The good news is we may very well see the version of Rose that racked up 16 assists and 29 points on a mere 14 attempts much more frequently.
What we've seen is that Rose, when compelled to use it, has a better-than-advertised basketball brain. We saw it when he carved up to the til-then King of Point Guards in the NBA. Rose played King of the Mountain with Chris Paul that night and won.
So, let's return to the question at hand. Can Derrick Rose be this generation's Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls? That all depends on what you mean by "this generation's Michael Jordan."
If you mean can he be the best player in the game and go into the conversation as the greatest player ever, it's not likely. There's only one player who's playing right now that can even remotely be considered in that conversation, and he still needs five (not one) more ring to do that.
LeBron James indisputably has the best all-around game since Jordan, and in that sense is the most reminiscent of Jordan. They are the only two players in the modern age of basketball to average 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game for eight seasons.
Oscar Robertson is the all-time leader at 10, but that's a different era. Even so, LeBron could chase down and overtake that record eventually.
No, Rose is never going to be that kind of player.
He's not going to be the player that leads the league in "wow plays" year after year the way Jordan was, or how Rose was in 2011.
What he can do, though, is lead the Bulls to multiple championships provided the right players are put around him and the Bulls are doing everything they can to do just that.
Many have criticized their offseason moves, but they make sense put together. This isn't a "sandbag" year so much as it is a concession that Rose will not be 100 percent next year, even if he returns.
What they are doing is preparing themselves for the 2013-2014 offseason. At that time, they'll be able to liberate themselves of Carlos Boozer's hefty and burdensome contract, Richard Hamilton's $5 million contract and buy out a couple of other players.
They'll have another draft pick, much higher this year than in previous years. They'll have a chance that Nikola Mirotic will buy out his contract and come over. They'll have Marquise Teague with a year under his belt and Jimmy Butler with two.
They'll also have money to retain Taj Gibson.
Finally, they'll have the potential for a very high draft pick coming in up the next two to three seasons as well.
The Bulls will need to make the right choices over the next two offseasons, but if they do, they'll have a real chance to compete with the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. They don't have the star power that those two teams do, but both of those teams are going to hit some issues in the very near future.
I don't think there will be six rings on Rose's fingers the day he retires, but there could be two, maybe three, depending on what the Bulls do and how he proceeds with his career from his surgery.
Does that make him Jordan? No, but Jordan-lite isn't a bad call. I'm sure Chicago would be happy with that.