With the news that Derrick Rose has torn the meniscus in his right knee, there are two questions the Chicago Bulls and their fans want answers to: When will he return? And how long will it be until he does?
On the first question, it’s not so easy to say until the surgery is performed.
An interview with Dr. Phil Montgomery on NBA TV goes a long way toward explaining what the options are and how it will be determined which Rose will undergo. Summing him up, there are two options available.
One reattaches the meniscus, stitching it up, and that comes with a recovery time as long as six months. The other shaves the meniscus, and the recovery is about a month, though Brandon Roy came back from it in eight days.
This is a case of good news is bad news, and bad news is good news though. The surgery with the longer recovery time is better for Rose’s long-term career. That’s the procedure that Russell Westbrook had. His recovery was slightly extended by some issues with his stitches needing repairs.
The meniscus provides the “padding” between the knees on the bone. Without that padding, the bone-on-bone is the kind of thing that can shorten careers. That was the case with Roy. However, Metta World Peace underwent this procedure with no complications, so it’s not a guarantee that Rose is going to be like Roy and have his career destroyed.
Undoubtedly though, it’s better for his career to have the reattachment.
There’s been a bit of a misconception, relayed both on my Twitter time line, and on SportsCenter, which suggests that Rose and the Bulls will “choose” which procedure to use. That’s a little misleading. The norm is to only do the shaving procedure if necessary.
According to Montgomery, that is determined by the injury itself.
If the tear is either too deep or on the inside of the meniscus, then the stitches won’t work. The blood flow is in the outside of the tendon, and it wouldn’t be possible for the knee to heal. If the tear is not deep and on the outside of the tendon, it is salvageable, and the surgeon will repair it.
In other words, if stitches are an option, Rose will get the reattachment. If they aren’t an option, he will undergo the shaving procedure. The two different procedures provide two recovery time lines, and correspondingly, two strategies for how the Bulls can proceed.
The 1-Month Scenario
The short term scenario, sadly, looks a lot like last season. Only this time it comes without the adrenaline boost Nate Robinson provided off the bench.
This is exacerbated by the week-to-week status of Jimmy Butler, who is also out with turf toe. When you’re starting backcourt is back home, it’s going be tough to generate many points.
Yet, the short-term nature of both injuries doesn’t justify making an overhaul to the roster. The costs in chemistry, particularly in a system like the Bulls run, are too steep.
In other words, by the time the players acquired in any trade scenario started to click, Butler and Rose would be back.
As boring as it sounds, if Rose is in for a shorter recovery time, simply gutting it out and playing ugly are about the only things the Bulls can do.
Additionally (and sadly), if he has to go through the shaving procedure, the Bulls owe it Rose (and to his teammates) to keep the team together. If his career is tragically shortened, does he have the years left in his career to go through a rebuilding process? It’s not what I want to say, or what the Bulls want to hear, but sticking together for one more postseason run might be Rose’s last, best chance.
The 6-Month Scenario
The six-month scenario is very different. Effectively, it means that the season is over. Sure, Rose might be able to come back at the end of the year and try and help the Bulls out, but considering how he hadn’t even finished shaking off the rust in his first return, it’s hard to envision a second being overly impactful this year.
But long term, it means his career has years on it still.
Exacerbating the issue is that Luol Deng, who has been a Bull his entire 10-year career, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. They may have to move up their decision date on whether he fits in the long-term plans for the future.
If Rose isn’t coming back this year, it will be time for the Bulls to count their losses and blow the current roster up. Of course, declaring, “Blow them up!” isn’t nearly as easily said as done. Yes, the Bulls can make trades for many of their current players, but doing so in way that’s constructive is not simple.
This is going to bring up a host of fake-trade scenarios, with people on both sides saying, “That’s stupid,” as tons of self-appointed GMs proclaim their own expertise in estimating the relative value of current players.
So, I’ll give you mine. This is my favorite fake trade. I think it’s plausible, and it does clear the ESPN Trade Machine. It is a three-team trade between the Bulls, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Houston Rockets, and makes sense to all three.
The Bulls would trade away Taj Gibson and Luol Deng and take back Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.
The Pelicans would trade away Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon and get back Luol Deng and Omer Asik.
The Rockets would trade away Omer Asik and get back Taj Gibson.
The trade helps the Pelicans because they would be able to play Tyreke Evans in his more natural shooting guard position, and Omer Asik gives them a pure center to play alongside Anthony Davis. The defensive frontcourt of Deng, Davis and Asik would match well with Monty Williams' coaching style.
A starting five of Jrue Holiday, Evans, Deng, Davis and Asik is a deep team that could compete for a deep playoff run.
The trade helps the Rockets because it gives them help where they need it most. They would have a starting caliber power forward with a defensive mentality. I know that there’s been talk about a straight Anderson for Asik swap, but this makes no sense to me. The Rockets are already the highest scoring team in the league. Why do they need more offense?
Their defense is 21st in efficiency. That’s where they need help, and Anderson isn’t going to give them that. Gibson is a better fit. He’s a versatile defender who can both help in the Rockets weak perimeter defense and defend the post. He helps the Rockets where they need help the most.
Having a defensive presence alongside him could reinvigorate Howard on that end as well.
The trade helps the Bulls because it gives them the stretch-4 they’ve long coveted, plus it gives them a second playmaker to play alongside Rose, once he finally returns (hopefully) for good. To make up for Deng, they can simply slide Butler back over to the 3.
Then, they amnesty Carlos Boozer in the offseason to stay out of the luxury tax.
The Bulls then have a starting five next season of Rose, Gordon, Butler, Anderson and Joakim Noah, effectively rebuilding on the fly.
They could then use the rest of this season to give youngsters Marquis Teague and Tony Snell heavier minutes so that they can develop. Gradually integrate Gordon and Anderson into the system.
Then they have Nikola Mirotic, who is ripping up Europe, coming over next season. He’s averaging 23.2 points, nine rebounds, 1.4 assists, two steals, and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes. He’s doing this shooting at insane rates, making 89.5 percent of his free throws, 73.1 percent of his shots from two and 66.7 percent of his threes. His true shooting percentage is 89.72.
Then also have their own draft pick next year (which suddenly has more value) and increasingly it looks like the chance to finally use the Charlotte Bobcats’ pick in the next draft. They could either keep Mirotic, their own pick and the Charlotte pick, or they could bundle them together and try and move up in the draft to take a player like Jabari Parker.
The likelihood of that probably depends on Mirotic continuing to play at such a high level, and where the other two picks end up coming. Dario Saric, who would likely go behind Mirotic if Mirotic were available, is currently ranked eighth on Chad Ford’s Big Board. He serves as a good placeholder for Mirotic’s trade value.
Potentially, the Bulls could revamp their roster around Rose, Butler and Noah in one season. While there are some risks with a backcourt featuring two players with knee problems, as Gordon has had his own history, there’s not going to be any perfect scenario.
What should the Bulls do if Rose is done for most or all of the season?
Failing that, the Bulls could look for other deals, or they could just let Deng play out the season, walk at the end and take their chances in free agency.
Bear in mind though, the amount of cap space they truly have, even if they amnesty Boozer, is more limited than advertised, especially if Mirotic eats a portion of it, and they have two first-round deals to work in. The true figure for what they have to spend on a free agent is in neighborhood of $5-8 million, even if they amnesty Boozer.
Per Sham Sports, they have $47 million in committed salary if they show Boozer the exit and let Deng walk him out. Provided they raise the cap to $62 million, which is on the high end, they’d have $15 million. But, $5 million of that goes toward bringing Mirotic over. A portion of that is going to be reserved for rookie salaries. And some is going to be held in veteran’s minimum salaries to flesh out the roster.
Depending on whether they get the Charlotte pick, and where they pick, that’s going to cost them another $5-8 million. But with the mini-mid level exception for teams below the cap, they’d have another $2.5 million to spend.
The point is that waiting for free agency and landing a player like Carmelo Anthony to come and play for Chicago is unlikely. The Bulls don’t have anything close to the cap room they need to sign a max-level player.
In short, trying to see if they could get something back for Deng would be ideal if Rose isn’t returning, especially if it makes them worse this season but better next.
It works not just because it helps Chicago get someone back, but it also works because it’s the only way to get a $10 million player back. In fact, whatever happens, it seems like the Bulls are better off hoping for next year than this one, both for the long-term prognosis of Rose and the team.