Can Chicago Bulls Still Build a Legitimate Contender Around Derrick Rose?

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Can Chicago Bulls Still Build a Legitimate Contender Around Derrick Rose?
Cameron Browne/Getty Images

Nothing will ever be the same for the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls.

The team announced that Rose underwent successful surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee he suffered against the Portland Trail Blazers that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

A sick sense of deja vu will likely sink in for all of Chicago. Rose and the Bulls have been here before only last season. He sat out an entire year to get right, to become stronger. To ensure he came back better. 

Then, this. The sweeping realization that Rose will have appeared in 49 regular-season games (and one playoff game) over the past three seasons.

Put simply, this isn't fair. It's not fair that one of the game's hardest-working players finds himself here. Again. It's not fair that the Bulls, after a season of waiting and longing must persevere through a trove of adversity. Again.

We know how they'll handle it, of course—with a practiced nod of the head, pat of Rose's back and murmur of defiance. "We have more than enough to win," head coach Tom Thibodeau said before Chicago's game on Sunday, via Nick Friedell of, knowing full well his Bulls, besieged by injuries yet again, don't.

Once that realization comes full circle and the Bulls come to grips with another lost season, they'll look ahead to next year. To the promise of better days. And in doing so they'll ask: Is Rose still the answer?

Everything the Bulls have done has been for Rose. They were always going as far as he could carry them, even after his first season back from injury.

Now forced to endure another compromised campaign, the Bulls can no longer sustain that kind of blueprint. Look where it's got them—the middle. Or, nowhere.

This team doesn't exist to be mediocre, to lose in the first or second round of the playoffs. It isn't home to a top-five payroll for this; money wasn't spent or this roster kept intact for this.

Changes are fast approaching now that Rose is done for the season. I know it, you should know it and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski has tried to prepare us for it:

Whatever choice Rose makes now, make no mistake: The uncertainty surrounding this franchise's combustible mix of management, coach and players threatens to further destabilize now.


Thibodeau is in the second season of a four-year contract extension, but those close to him and the Bulls wonder: Is this a partnership doomed to perish sooner than later? With Rose and a championship contender, there was reason for Thibodeau to push through a most toxic environment. Now? Rose returns to perpetual rehab, Deng plays out his deal, and Thibodeau and his nemesis, general manager Gar Forman, could come to a crossroads sooner than later.

Luol Deng, who is set to hit free agency, isn't safe. I'll be shocked if the Bulls don't move him in an effort to get under the luxury tax threshold, much to the displeasure of Coach Thibs

Speaking of Thibs, he's not safe, either. Forever at odds with the organization and working under a contract that was far too much of a project for a coach of his stature, he could be ousted as well. 

Few people in Chicago are safe as the Bulls prepare to change course. Think Joakim Noah is untouchable? Think again. The Bulls have seen what injuries can reduce him to. 

But that's not the point. There has only ever been one untouchable in Chicago—Rose. Even now, that hasn't changed. It can't. No team will take on the four years and nearly $78 million remaining on his contract while he's in this state. Not that the Bulls would even try to trade him—they won't. They cannot give up on the greatest ray of light the organization has had since Michael Jordan; they cannot afford to quit on Rose just yet. But they can and must change directions.

A title contender cannot be built around Rose and Rose alone. That ship likely sailed after tearing his ACL in 2012 and now, after this, it's a distant dot, barely visible to the naked eye.

Ruling Rose out for the season was the best thing the Bulls could've done. Make no mistake about that. It saves them from the endless amounts of speculation they had to plow through last year.

Long term, repairing Rose's meniscus was also better than removing it entirely. Though it takes longer to heal, it simplifies the recovery process and presumably gives Rose a higher ceiling upon return.

The thing is, that ceiling isn't as high as it once was. Nowhere near it.

Remember, Rose wasn't Rose upon going down this time. He was already struggling to adjust. Look at how his stats from this year stack up against his career averages:

Rose by the Numbers
First 4 Seasons 36.8 21.0 46.4 6.8 0.9 110 19.9
2013-14 31.1 15.9 35.4 4.3 0.5 89 10.5

Via Basketball-Reference.

Paint a picture of a player who wasn't given enough time. Who played just 10 games since April 2012. Who wasn't right. But that's the point.

This time, for this injury, Rose wasn't right. He hasn't played at a high level since April 2012 and won't have the opportunity to revive his stalled career until fall 2014. When next October rolls around and the 2014-15 season is ready to tip off, Rose will have basically missed two-and-a-half years. How do you place the fate of your team in his hands? After all this waiting, hoping and heartache, how do you expect him to lead a championship-caliber cause? 

You don't. And if the Bulls know what's best for the team and the city of Chicago, they won't. 

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Is it time for Chicago to hatch a new plan?

Glorified supporting cast members like Deng, Noah and Carlos Boozer aren't enough. Developing prospects like Jimmy Butler aren't enough. Searching for a No. 2 to Rose's No. 1 won't be enough. The Bulls need a new No. 1 or, at the very least, a 1B to Rose's 1A.

Out of necessity, the Bulls cannot invest any more time or money into this current setup. Nor should they want to. Not even if they could guarantee Rose would return stronger than ever, which they can't. 

Can the Bulls still build a contender around Derrick Rose?

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Best-case scenario, this roster is a work in progress. Overcome with a blind sense of faith, the Bulls would trust that Rose return to form and earn his own statue outside the United Center. They would stand pat and remain patient. They would stay the course.

Knowing this would take time, they shouldn't want to. Time is something they don't have. It was something they sacrificed last season. Wait and see—that's what they've done for almost two years.

What the Bulls need to do now is accept reality. Hatch a new plan. Seek a new course. A safer path.

Find a star to pair with Rose who can give them what the 2008 No. 1 pick no longer can.

Who can be that beacon of immediate hope and that source of much-needed certainty.


*All stats from this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and accurate as of Nov. 25, 2013 unless otherwise noted.

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