Richard Hamilton Trade Rumors Signal Bulls Thinking About Derrick Rose's Future
Without their former MVP, Chicago dropped four of its next five games and with that, the top-seeded Bulls were out of the playoffs.
Despite medical progressions in dealing with his injury, Rose faced a grueling, lengthy rehab process.
The Bulls' season appeared to be in jeopardy before they even broke training camp.
But thanks to another steady season from Luol Deng (17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game) and a breakout year from Joakim Noah (13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 blocks), the Bulls are doing more than just treading water while waiting for Rose's return.
They're making splashes in a deep Eastern Conference.
At 14-10, the Bulls are leading the Central Division and find themselves just 4.5 games behind the Eastern Conference-leading New York Knicks.
Reports started leaking in early December that Rose was a matter of "weeks away" from a return to the practice floor (according to what a source told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times).
The news brought championship thoughts rushing through the Windy City with the same rapidity as the despair that accompanied his injury.
Those same lofty hopes have not found their way inside Chicago's front offices, though.
They appear to be more keen on developing their younger talent (and saving money in the process) than chasing the conference elites.
The Bulls have considered moving some of their win-now pieces. The team may waive Nate Robinson, which they can do without penalty until January 2013. And they're also dangling guard Richard Hamilton in trade offers (according to what league sources told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune).
Both moves would offer Chicago extended looks at some of their youth.
If Robinson's waived, rookie Marquis Teague is waiting in the wings.
And sophomore Jimmy Butler has already been stating his case for more playing time (5.3 points on 52.3 percent field-goal shooting in 17.3 minutes per game), something that becomes infinitely easier for coach Tom Thibodeau with Hamilton out of the picture.
Bulls fans may not like the idea of waiting another year, but there are no guarantees that this team can defeat the likes of New York or Miami even with a (semi) healthy Rose.
Chicago's doing the right thing by not rushing Rose back to the floor.
But would that same patience carry over to his return?
The Bulls, after all, have leaned on Deng and Noah more than any other players in the league (40.9 and 40.2 minutes per game, respectively). In fact, Thibodeau has called upon his bench fewer times than all but one coach in the league (according to hoopsstats.com).
There are also no guarantees that Rose ever returns to his pre-injury level (although a torn ACL hasn't been as career-threatening as it once was) or that he and his teammates will have enough to make a title run in the coming seasons.
But if Chicago can ease the 24-year-old Rose back to 100 percent, find some financial relief and even add a young piece or two in the process, they'll put themselves in prime position to make that push.
*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/20/2012.
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