The NBA is now in the midst of a golden age. The league is flush with young talent and savvy veterans who amaze and captivate on a daily basis. Outside of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, nobody is indispensable.
Still, there are an upper echelon of players and personalities who leave a void when they are not creating highlights for the masses to devour. The league is worse off without Dirk Nowitzki. And when players like John Wall, Andrew Bynum, Amar'e Stoudemire, Eric Gordon and Danny Granger are watching from the sidelines along with fans, the game suffers.
But ultimately, the NBA will be fine with or without Derrick Rose.
The Chicago Bulls? And the Windy City? That's another story.
Last year, the 50-16 Bulls, in a tie with the San Antonio Spurs, finished the lockout-shortened regular season with the league's best record. They entered the playoffs as the only real candidate to knock off the gelling Miami Heat juggernaut.
You know what happened next.
Derrick Rose blew out his knee in his team's first postseason game and the number-one seeded Bulls were quickly revealed to be a team entirely dependent on the other-worldly talents of their point guard. They folded, losing their next three games and, soon after, their first-round series to the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that lost 31 of its 66 regular season games.
In the offseason, as Rose focused on repairing and rehabbing his torn ACL, the Bulls did nothing to make their team better. They got worse. Defensive stalwarts Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer were poached by the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks, respectively, and Kyle Korver, one of the few offensive specialists on a roster full of stoppers, headed off to Atlanta.
The team's captain and MVP won't be back in action for another few months, but the question now is more dire: what does he really have to come back to?
Rip Hamilton, who just started his 14th season in the NBA, is just another year older. Carlos Boozer will have spent another year refining his singular, unmatched ability to be Carlos Boozer. And while former Bull Kirk Hinrich, a useful reserve for Atlanta the last few years, is a fine addition, the rest of the new guys (Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic) are players that no team has cared to keep around long.
Joakim Noah and Luol Deng—playing for Tom Thibodeau—are good enough keep the team from circling the drain while Derrick recovers. With the way the Indiana Pacers are playing, maybe they can even win the Central again. But make no mistake: The Bulls will miss Derrick Rose immeasurably, and even past this season, the team has some real questions to answer that run deeper than health.
Namely, they need to get Rose some scoring help if the team wants to compete for the title throughout the next half-decade. Because in Chicago, that is what is really at stake. Michael Jordan set the bar so high—too high.
Fans in the city and across the league will be content to see an excellent team led by Rose for the next several years regardless of whether or not they win a ring. People in Chicago, at least for now, seem to have that deep of an affection for the only player they consider the MVP.
But they will also begin to question whether or not they missed their best opportunity to get back to the top. He took over the league so quickly and the team became so good so quickly that it brought true hope back to a franchise that, since the greatest player in history retired, has had none. The tragedy is that the team appeared to be so close last year.
They were, in the minds of many, one ligament away.
Now, however, they need more. The Heat have become too strong, the Los Angeles Lakers are working out the kinks in a West Coast Voltron of their own and the Oklahoma City Thunder—even down one superstar after the James Harden trade—aren't going anywhere.
That is why the Bulls will so miss Rose this season and start to question whether or not they have a team that can compete. They not only have to sit through this flyover season but have to think back to what was and watch the NBA's new superpowers fight it out. And, unless something happens next summer, they might not be back in the battle even after Derrick is 100 percent.
The NBA missed Larry Bird and Magic for a time. They missed Michael Jordan for an even longer time. But these days, there is always another story, another phenom to capture the imagination. Harden and Jeremy Lin are doing it right now in Texas. The Knicks are looking as good as they have in years. A kid with a unibrow is about to block a Dikembe number of shots down in the Bayou. The Spurs and Celtics are oiling up their artificial hips for one last run. Kyrie Irving's got next.
The league will miss Rose, but they will get over it. Chicago, on the other hand, might never be able to. And this season will be a winter that even Windy City lifers think is much, much too cold.
It's up to the front office to make sure the ground ever thaws.
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