Derrick Rose's Injury Has Proven the Bulls' Core Is Not Championship-Worthy

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2012

Apr 28, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls injured point guard Derrick Rose (1) is helped off the court by medical staff during the fourth quarter in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center.  The Bulls won 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Still left without a concrete timetable for Derrick Rose's return from an ACL tear, the 2012-13 season has given the Chicago Bulls ample time to learn about their supporting cast.

Thus far, it's hard to complain with the results. Chicago is 7-7, having mostly won the games it was expected to win and fallen in contests where it came in as an underdog. Albeit in a very limited sample size, the Bulls would be in ninth place in the Eastern Conference if the season ended on Dec. 1.

That's all well and good. But while the results have shown that Chicago can still hang around the fringes of playoff contention without Rose, it's also exposed the surrounding talent as unworthy of championship glory when the star returns. 

That's not to call the Bulls' secondary stars weak or Wizard-like or anything derogatory of the sort. 

More than anything, the Bulls' lack of championship worthiness is an observation of the current NBA landscape. Contenders like the Heat, Lakers and Thunder all boast two of 10 best players in the game—ones that can (theoretically in L.A.'s case) pick up the slack when the other is struggling. 

And the teams without two top-10 stars—the Grizzlies, Spurs and Clippers, among others—have an undeniable stable of depth that stretches all the way to ninth and 10th men.

With the departure of the "Bench Mob," the Bulls no longer fit into either category. In fact, forward Taj Gibson recently said that the second unit "wasn't cutting it." 

One could say we already knew the Bulls were on the fringes of contention all along—it's been a long running joke that Rose is the new LeBron James from his Cleveland days—but nothing is concrete until you see a team without its star.

For instance, Joakim Noah has emerged this season as Chicago's second-best player, bar none. The Bulls center is averaging career highs in points (13.4), blocks (2.3) and assists (4.1) per game, all while playing nearly 40 minutes a night. 

Noah's value becomes even more glaring when looking at his on-off split statistics. When Noah is on the floor, the Bulls score 103.5 points and allow just 97.9 points per 48 minutes. However, when he's on the bench, Chicago scores 100.7 points against 117.2 for the opposition, per

His excellence in the early going proves Noah could be a fantastic third banana on a championship team in today's NBA climate.

However, the Bulls' problem lies with their lack of a top-tier second scoring option—otherwise known as the Luol Deng-Carlos Boozer conundrum. Where Noah's play has risen without Rose, Deng and Boozer have both outed themselves as unreliable carriers of the offensive load. 

Already oft-criticized, Boozer is in the midst of the worst season of his career. With a career-low shooting percentage (46.1) and the second-worst points per game average (13.8) of his decade-long career, it's not a stretch to say Boozer has crumbled under his extra responsibilities.

Deng, meanwhile, hasn't seen an egregious drop in performance. He's leading the team with 17.6 points per game and grabbing 7.4 rebounds a night, both of which are on par with his career averages. But Deng has never been the most efficient offensive player, as evidenced by his 14.6 PER this season. 

So, what are the Bulls supposed to do?

The uneducated fix that has been bandied about by the masses is to amnesty Boozer in the offseason. 

That solution completely ignores the fact that Bulls have $53.9 million in guaranteed salaries for 2013-14, even after amnestying Boozer and declining a team option on Richard Hamilton.

Assuming that the NBA salary cap sticks around the 2012-13 number ($58.044 million), Chicago would have a little over $4 million to play with in the offseason. Considering that isn't even a mid-level salary, I'm pretty sure no one will be clawing over themselves to sign with the Bulls. 

What's more, even if Chicago was able to unload Deng's contract and get under the cap, the free-agent class next summer isn't inspiring much hope. The best free agents—Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum—play non-need positions and are likely to stick with their current team.

As for guys likely on the move? A Rose, Noah, Monta Ellis threesome isn't inspiring anyone, and Al Jefferson is essentially like signing Boozer 2.0. The best possible option would be to land Josh Smith, but he's no more of a second scoring option than what the team has now.  

Another possibility is that the Bulls wait and hope a team becomes desperate enough to move an unhappy star this summer. However, if no white knight comes riding to Chicago's rescue, the franchise is better off keeping this core intact and riding out the contracts.

Unfortunately, based on what we've seen this season, that will mean more conference finals appearances than NBA Finals victories. 

(All stats are updated as of Dec. 1)