The superstar point guard hasn’t let any of that pressure impact his ultimate decision. He’ll wait until he is ready, which is the best decision for both Rose and the future of the team.
And the Bulls will be just fine without him should he decide not to return in the playoffs.
That’s not to say Rose wouldn’t make Chicago a better team were he to come back in time for the playoffs, but his decision won’t make or break the Bulls in their pursuit of an NBA title. They have made it this far without him and they have to be prepared to take on the postseason under those same circumstances.
A putrid midseason stretch was enough to raise questions about the team’s ability to secure even a mid-level playoff seed.
From Feb. 1 to March 21, the Bulls went 8-14, with losses against non-playoff teams like Cleveland, Portland and Sacramento and a bevy of close defeats at the hands of some of the NBA’s top squads (including a loss to Miami in which the Bulls scored just 67 points).
But Chicago went 6-2 following that stretch, and the result was a renewed sense of direction for a team struggling to stay afloat. A March 27 victory over that same Miami squad—ending its monumental 27-game winning streak—was enough to signal a resurgence at the perfect time in the season.
Injuries have hampered the Bulls since that win, but there’s no denying the spark of life the team has shown since that time. With a win Wednesday night, Chicago will be in line for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round pairing with the Brooklyn Nets.
Coach Tom Thibodeau knows what Rose’s presence would mean for the team in the playoffs, but he also acknowledges the fact that his team will be prepared, regardless of who is on the floor (per Doug Padilla of ESPN):
It hasn't changed from the start of the season. Our team has to get ready for whoever we're playing. Derrick has to handle his rehab and if he can join us great, and if not, we're going to make the most of our circumstance, and we feel good about where we are.
We've had an entire season to prepare ourselves and I like our chances if we have the group that played all season.
There’s something to be said for the continuity Chicago has produced with that group on the floor. Despite scoring just 93.2 points per game this season, the Bulls have been able to stay above water by playing tremendous defense and doing the little things well.
Thibodeau’s squad ranks third in the league in points allowed per contest (92.9), seventh in assists per game (23) and ninth in rebounds per game (43.1). The scoring hasn’t been there, but there’s an obvious sense of purpose that extends far beyond that, allowing the Bulls to overcome their shortcomings at the offensive end of the floor.
Chicago will face either Indiana or Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs. Neither team boasts a particularly explosive offense capable of overtaking the Bulls’ top-tier defense.
While Indiana certainly has the defensive prowess to make scoring enough points to win a seven-game series a shaky proposition, nothing about either matchup should make the Bulls a substantial underdog in the opening round of action.
Playoff success can’t be compared to regular-season performance, but Chicago does boast a 3-1 record against the Nets this year—a mark that should instill a lot of confidence in Thibodeau’s team, with or without Rose in the mix.
Given the unpredictable nature of the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Bulls cruise through the first round without any resistance, but it’s also premature to write them off.
Chicago has proven its ability to win without Rose and an Eastern Conference quarterfinal victory shouldn’t surprise anyone.