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Realistic Expectations for Chicago Bulls If Derrick Rose Doesn't Return

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 16:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls warms up prior to the game against the Boston Celtics during the game on January 16, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

Chicago Bulls fans always knew this was a possibility.

A remote, worst-case-scenario-type possibility, but a possibility nevertheless.

Despite promising progress reports over the past few months, point guard Derrick Rose said that he's "far away" from returning to the floor (via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today).

If "far away" leaves you without a good feel for an eventual return date, you're not alone. Rose himself wouldn't speculate as to any specific date.

"I don't have a set date," Rose said. "I'm not coming back until I'm 110%. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready."

Any day would be music to Chicago fans' ears. But even the most blindly optimistic couldn't see "far away" meaning "any day".

As for a couple of weeks, that'd be welcome news for the Windy City. Despite winning just two of their past six games, the Bulls (30-21) have held on to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They've shown their capability of maintaining relevance without their MVP leader.

But that other potential return date, that "next year" comment, has resonated through Chicago with the same deflating tone that accompanied Rose's initial injury during the opening game of the 2012 playoffs.

One source told ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers that Rose holds just a "50-50" chance of playing this season.

Assuming the worst, this current Bulls group would then look very similar to the one tasked with finding playoff success in Rose's absence. While the team can be lauded for their performance to date, a postseason series is a different beast from 50-odd regular-season games.

Without Rose, the Bulls lack a consistent offensive weapon. In the closely contested, high-pressure games of the postseason, Chicago has no identifiable closer on the roster.

Luol Deng leads the team in scoring (16.9 points per game), but has suffered through the second-worst shooting season of his nine-year career (42.5). Carlos Boozer has been the most reliable offensive weapon in the starting lineup (47.3 field-goal percentage), but has converted just 37.4 percent of his shots away from the rim. Considering the team's pedestrian perimeter game (34.8 three-point percentage, tied for 18th), Boozer may struggle to find many point-blank looks.

Coach Tom Thibodeau also has no great option to initiate his late-game looks. Kirk Hinrich is his best decision-maker, but his 38.1 field-goal percentage won't necessitate a lot of defensive attention. Nate Robinson brings more of a scoring punch (12.1 points per game), but isn't a great distributor or decision-maker.

Thibodeau's team prefers slower, grind-it-out basketball, but so do potential playoff opponents such as the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets. Chicago has split two games with Brooklyn so far and is winless through two matchups with Central Division rival Indiana.

The Bulls have found relative success without Rose this season and managed the NBA's best record last season despite the point guard missing 27 of their 66 games. But they also won just one playoff game without him, defeated in six games by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.

With a healthy Rose in the lineup, Chicago may have the best chance of unseating the defending champion Miami Heat of any team in the Eastern Conference. Without Rose, though, the Bulls will struggle to make it out of the first round.

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