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The Bulls have been a pleasant surprise this season, but greatness is predicated on the knee of Derrick Rose.
The delicate line between a very good Bulls team and a great one lies inside the machinery of Derrick Rose's knee.
They won 62 games with an MVP Rose and advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-11. That seemed to be the beginning of what promised to be a long, fruitful career—and it can still be—but a simple jump and awkward landing significantly changed things.
Rose seems to be on his way back, but there is no way of knowing how he will fare until he plays 20-25 games on the court to get back in game shape.
The good news is that the Bulls defense hasn't skipped a beat without Rose, giving up the third-least points in the NBA. The bad news is the offense so far this season (20th in offensive efficiency).
Unlike Ricky Rubio, who is also coming back from an ACL injury, Rose's game is predicated on slashing to the basket. How many Adrian Petersons are there in this world? It's tough to find examples of players coming back full strength after ACL injuries in the NBA.
But let's take a look at what might happen if Rose does indeed come back stronger than before. A team so good on defense should make things tough for any team, even the defending champions Miami Heat. However, with a healthy Rose and a great defensive team, the Bulls still lost four games to one against the Heat in 2010. They essentially dropped LeBron on Rose and made the rest of the team try to score. They didn't.
Now without premier defender Omer Asik down low, and the Heat only getting better, it's hard to see the Bulls winning immediately in the present. And the big offensive addition for the Bulls since then? Richard Hamilton. That won't be enough.
Granted, the improvement from Joakim Noah and Luol Deng should only bolster an elite defense even more so when Rose returns. They also play in the easier conference, with the Heat presenting the only true threat.
But even the most die-hard Bulls fans must know that they lost in a short series to a Miami Heat team that isn't nearly as good as it is now. Combine that with the uncertainty of Rose's knee and the Bulls' potential to be great takes a hit.