Is the other shoe beginning to drop for the Chicago Bulls?
For a while, things were peachy for Chicago. Even in the absence of the injured Derrick Rose, the Bulls were—a bit surprisingly—on top of the Central Division. Role-players were picking up the slack while Rose continued his rehabilitation. As of Dec. 21, they had won eight of their last 11.
Their four-game stretch since then is no reason to panic, but it could be an indication that perhaps life without Rose isn't going to be as easy as it seemed to be over the first two months of the season.
Chicago has dropped three of its last four to Atlanta, Houston and—alarmingly—Charlotte, which snapped an 18-game losing streak with a victory at the United Center. It has fallen out of first place in the Central and is now a game behind Indiana. Rumors about Rose's projected return—likely to be sometime after the All-Star break, according to CSN Chicago—continue to circulate.
And with those rumors comes the continued speculation regarding the futures of Rip Hamilton and Nate Robinson.
The rumor mill with regards to Hamilton has been the most active. He's getting closer to returning from a foot injury that has kept him off the court for almost a month, and as he nears a return, the Bulls are contemplating whether his future will be with them, or whether he'll be shipped out before Rose's return and/or the trade deadline.
The nature of his expiring contract suggests that the Bulls would be better off dealing him and getting something in return rather than just letting him walk at season's end—especially given the fact that bench players, particularly Marco Belinelli, have been solid in his absence.
According to ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell, though, Hamilton is concentrating on returning to the lineup rather than the constant speculation about where he'll be a couple of months from now.
Hamilton told Friedell:
I don't pay attention to it. It happens every year. Every year, if you ain't in a trade rumor, then you ain't doing something right. That's how I always looked at it. That's the way this game goes, you hear about stuff every day because GM's are talking to different players every day. It's nothing that I even get caught up or think about or anything like that.
Meanwhile, Bulls fans are having a harder time grappling with the idea of parting with Nate Robinson. Whenever Rose and Hamilton return, it's going to create a very crowded backcourt in Chicago—and Robinson, despite how important he's been to this team over the last month or so, could be the odd man out.
Robinson has averaged 11.0 points and 3.6 assists in about 21 minutes per game, yet his name has been cropping up lately in rumors involving the Knicks. According to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, Robinson and his non-guaranteed contract could be heading elsewhere—perhaps to New York—though the fact that a move most likely isn't going to happen until after Robinson's contract becomes guaranteed makes it more likely that he'll be sticking around in Chicago after all.
For his part, Robinson is just enjoying life in the NBA and isn't too concerned about the rumors. He told Johnson:
Life is not guaranteed. Look at all the tragedy that is happening in the world now. If I get the guarantee, I'll be happy. If not, I'll keep pushing and won't drop my head. I'll keep working hard and continue to be the player I am. It's been awesome here.
Once Hamilton returns, the Bulls will get a better idea of what needs to happen to ensure success over the next few months. But the one thing we do know is that success likely isn't going to involve all of the current pieces of this roster as it stands.