Derrick Rose's 2012-13 campaign was over before it ever got started, yet still had to feel like the longest of his five seasons in the league.
The torn ACL he suffered in the closing minutes of the first game of the Chicago Bulls' opening-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012 was going to limit his activity this season. As to how far-reaching those limitations would be, it was anyone's guess.
Optimistic outlooks tabbed the All-Star Game as a likely return, a shade less than eight months removed from his crippling injury. But the weekend came and went with no sign of him. As the season wore on, more speculative return dates entered the conversation but none ever came to fruition.
Short of an ill-fated Adidas commercial campaign, Rose's basketball activities were restricted to Chicago's practice floor and a smattering of pregame warm-up sightings. Come game time he was either a no-show or a sideline presence draped in his Sunday best suit and tie.
Now that the Bulls' tumultuous season has finally come to a close thanks to a five-game series win by the defending champion Miami Heat, it's time to look ahead and determine what's next for the Windy City's finest.
2012-13 By The Numbers
Clearly, no number carries more weight for Rose and his teammates than zero. That would be the number of games (or minutes, or even seconds) that he played all season.
But that's not the only defining digit jumping off the pages of Chicago's annual review.
Perhaps an even more surprising statistic (certainly a far more enjoyable one) would be the number 45. Tom Thibodeau's team waged war 82 times without their MVP leader and emerged victorious on 45 occasions.
Take a moment and let that one sink in. This was a team missing a star presence that they'd spent the past two seasons leaning harder on than nearly every other player in the league.
In 2011-12, a season in which Rose appeared in just 39 games, he finished with seventh-highest usage rate in the NBA, 30.45 (via Basketball-Reference.com). The previous year his 32.18 usage rate trailed only Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant's 35.08.
What could Rose have meant to the Bulls had he been able to log significant minutes? Well, in 2010-11 his play brought Chicago an additional 13 wins according to his win shares.
Now, that number was destined to decrease this time around, because some lost time to rehab was anticipated. Let's assume that he was limited to half of Chicago's games (using the Adrian Peterson path to recovery). That would've given the Bulls an additional six victories (seven if you'd like to round up), which would have meant a third seed instead of a fifth and a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup with Miami as opposed to a second-round meeting.
Before moving on, there's one more notable number to toss out: 20. Chicago had 20 games left on the regular-season schedule when reports leaked that Rose was given medical clearance to play (h/t Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com). Coincidentally or not, the Bulls lost four of their next five games after that report surfaced.
What They're Saying
To his credit, and the hoop world's dismay, he kept a pretty tight-lipped approach throughout the year. He hasn't posted anything on his Twitter account since March 7 and tweeted just eight times during the entire season.
But he didn't go completely silent. Prior to Chicago's Game 7 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series, he spoke with reporters on the challenges of not being able to help his club and what it would have taken for him to return to action.
And while he largely kept quiet, his coaches and teammates often did most of the talking for him. And none expressed even a hint of bitterness or anger toward their fallen star.
Thibodeau defended Rose and the team's decision to hold him out for the entire season, saying they didn't want any short-sighted thoughts to cloud their superstar's long-term potential (via ESPN.com's Michael Wallace):
Michael Wallace @MyMikeCheck
Thibodeau on Derrick Rose: "If we were going to make a mistake, we were going to make a mistake on side of caution."5/16/2013, 2:04:34 AM
Joakim Noah, Chicago's fiery All-Star who manned the leadership roles in Rose's absence, admitted to some selfish desires of having his point guard on the floor but understood the reasons behind Rose's cautious approach (via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today):
Jeff Zillgitt @JeffZillgitt
Noah on Rose: "It was hard. As a player, you want him to come back. At the same time, you understand you’ve got to look at the big picture."5/16/2013, 2:29:17 AM
In the court of public opinion, Rose's stock was battered and bruised throughout the season. Conspiracy theorists abound saw his refusal to put a definitive postponement on his return as a way for the franchise's cash registers ringing.
As far as the basketball world was concerned, though, a lost season did nothing to diminish his status as one of the sport's elites.
He was the youngest player even to win the MVP award, taking the home hardware at the age of 22. He's never earned a player efficiency rating under the league average 15.0, and managed a 23.0-plus rating in each of his last two seasons played which would have kept him among this year's top 12 in the category (via ESPN.com).
He's had three straight seasons of 20-plus points and six-plus assists, something only four players accomplished this year (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry).
And his unwavering commitment at both ends of the floor puts him in an even more exclusive category. Chicago can't wait to see him return to action, and there's 29 other teams that would be more than happy to pry away its native son.
Injury aside, it's a great time to be Derrick Rose.
According to Sports Illustrated's "Fortunate 50", a ranking of the top money-makers in professional sports, he's the seventh-highest paid athlete set to rake in over $33 million this year. He was the third-highest NBA player among the group, trailing only James (second, $56 million) and Bryant (fourth, $46 million).
And he's likely headed even further up that list. This season marked the first of his five-year, $95 million contract extension with Chicago. Barring any unforeseen, shocking developments he'll be a part of his team at least through the 2016-17 season (h/t HoopsHype.com).
He'll still be on the right side of 30 when his current deal expires, meaning there's a great chance he's looking at another jackpot payday in his future.
The Bulls' patient handling of his rehab and recovery suggests they have no interest in letting him slip out of their grasp anytime soon.
Projected 2013-14 Stat Line
22.7 PPG / 8.3 APG / 3.8 RPG / 46.2 FG% / 31.5 3PT%
A year without Rose meant new-found offensive responsibility for his teammates, and several responded with career years. Sophomore wing Jimmy Butler set career highs across the board, while first-time All-Star Joakim Noah had his highest scoring season (11.9) and shattered his previous best assist average (4.0).
That means Rose might be joining an even stronger team than the one he left behind, a remarkable development considering Chicago paced the Eastern Conference in each of the two previous seasons.
But that's not necessarily a detriment to his future numbers.
Thibodeau rides his favorite players harder than any coach in the league (Luol Deng led the league with 38.7 minutes per game) and won't have any problem giving Rose as many as offensive chances as he can handle.
The Bulls might be searching for another floor spacer if Marco Belinelli (career 38.7 three-point percentage) bolts in free agency, but Kirk Hinrich (39.0 three-point percentage) and Butler (38.1) will help keep defenses honest.
Rose is a gifted scorer, capable of finding buckets at any speed and from either direction. But he's a willing passer and understands how much harder he is to contain when he's masterfully striking a balance between scoring and distributing duty.
A slightly lesser scoring load (he averaged 25.0 in his MVP year) should mean better shot selection, so his field-goal percentage may creep back toward the success rate of his first few seasons. And with these added offensive weapons, he should be well armed for career-best assist numbers.
The Crystal Ball Says...
This was a championship-caliber club with a healthy Rose and it proved to be a tough playoff without him.
Frankly there's nothing holding Chicago back from returning to the ranks of the elites.
Whatever feeling-out period both sides need to experience should be taken care of in training camp and the preseason. They should hit the ground running when the regular season tips off.
The championship path still runs through South Beach, and the Bulls know that fact better than any other team. Miami has handed Chicago two of its last three playoff exits, and James' Cleveland Cavaliers played the role of executioner in 2009-10.
But Rose's return coupled with the further development of Noah and Butler means its only a matter of time before the Larry O'Brien Trophy returns to Chicago.