Derrick Rose's insistence on not returning until his knee is fully recovered is admirable, but his presence or lack thereof in the Chicago Bulls' lineup could make or break the team's playoff hopes this season. Rose recently told Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today that he would not be coming back until his knee was at "110 percent," and later told Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago that he did not mind missing the season if necessary.
Noble as his intentions are, the sad truth is that the Chicago Bulls are destined for another early playoff exit if Rose does not return in 2013. The team currently ranks fifth in the Eastern Conference, and is just a game-and-a-half behind the feisty Indiana Pacers for first place in the Central Division.
Don't get me wrong. Just because Rose may not be back this season does not mean that the Bulls will automatically be swept out of the playoffs once they begin. On the whole, the team has played excellently in Rose's absence, better than anyone could have anticipated.
Thanks to players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah stepping up their efforts, Chicago ranks third in points allowed at 91.5 per game, and also sixth in rebounding. If their postseason fates matched them up against a team that likes to score points, chances are that the Bulls would be in pretty good shape.
Offensively, however, Chicago would likely struggle mightily without Rose. The Bulls are 27th in points scored at just 93.1 per game, and their lack of a viable point guard has shone bright this season.
Kirk Hinrich has been little more than a shooter and a general disappointment since coming back to the Bulls via free agency over the summer, and rookie Marquis Teague has been a non-factor. Nate Robinson has done a good job of stepping up his efforts and being more than just a bench spark as of late, but he is still not the long-term solution in Rose's absence.
The sad truth is that the Bulls need Rose in order to make a statement in the playoffs this season. The former Memphis Tiger posted 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game last year, and he was one rebound and assist away from a triple-double in his sole playoff game.
He is an excellent scoring point guard who can create off the dribble just as well as he drives the lane and dishes the ball off to his teammates. The fact that the top-seeded Bulls crumbled without him in the playoffs last year says it all.
Simply put, if the Chicago Bulls want to get any closer to winning a championship this season and/or make their future look even brighter, or even just make a statement in the playoffs, they're going to need Rose running the point. He shouldn't rush his recovery by any means, but it's clear that having him back in the lineup is essential to the team's hopes both this year and in the future.
At that point, Chicago can finally start building a new legacy and not rely so heavily on that of a certain number 23, and it will all be thanks to Rose.