It's hard when a team loses its star player and has to trek through the first few months of the regular season without him.
It's easier, though, when that team has been able to keep its head above water in that star's absence—and hasn't made any secret of the fact that it has been playing shorthanded without him.
The Chicago Bulls currently stand at 21-15 overall, good for second in the Central Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Pretty impressive, considering their perennial All-Star and former MVP has been out of commission since tearing his ACL in the first game of last postseason.
Chicago has overachieved in Derrick Rose's absence. It has managed to fill its roster with role players who ended up exceeding expectations, and meanwhile, the remaining stars have compensated for his absence. Joakim Noah is averaging a career-high 12.3 points in a career-high 38.1 minutes per game. Nate Robinson has filled in admirably in the backcourt, giving this team a quality spark off the bench.
Still, though, this team knows how good it can be when Rose returns. He is what makes a good team excellent. And when he is ready to return—whenever that may be, as there is currently no timetable set for his return—the team will welcome him back with open arms.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn't spent much time discussing Rose this season, but this week, he acknowledged that the team has been playing "shorthanded" without him. In fact, Thibodeau believes that the mentality his team has adopted in Rose's absence is precisely what has driven it to succeed.
Thibodeau told Yahoo! Sports' Kent McDill:
When you are short-handed, you have to play with great intensity all the time. That should be part of our makeup. When we do that, we are successful. When we don't, we are not as successful.
Imagine how much that intensity is going to amplify upon Rose's return.
Slowly, Rose is easing back into things. He's back in practice. He's traveling with the team to some road games. Soon, he'll be cleared for contact in practice.
The Bulls are proceeding with extreme caution with regard to their star because they know they aren't anything special without him. They may be good, but they're not spectacular, and when he returns, he has to be ready. He has to be back for good.
Chicago may have managed to stay above water without Rose, but above water isn't good enough in the second half and in the playoffs.
It seems that the Bulls have already been doing everything they possibly can to get the team acclimated to a seamless transition. The team hasn't tried to ignore any of its deficiencies in Rose's absence. It has welcomed him back to practice. It has already addressed any possible issues related to playing time when Rose is ready to return.
As Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, "We're not worried about that. There has been constant communication with Derrick and the doctors. It's not going to be a problem."
Patience has been the name of the game for the Bulls since last April, and patience will continue to be the name of the game until team doctors and front office officials are completely, 100 percent positive that Rose is healthy enough to return. His transition has already begun, slowly but surely, and nobody is rushing anything. It's a slow progression.
The Bulls are already a hungry team. They are a team that has come out of the gates in 2012-13 with something to prove, and thus far, they have proven it.
And when they get their star back, they're going to be both hungry and dangerous. At that point, the patience will have paid off.