Injuries have consumed their roster like wildfire. Or like Scooby-Doo consumes Scooby Snacks. Not only is Rose out, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich have all missed time. The big one is Rose, but Chicago is hurting. And fragile dockets aren't foundations for winning championships.
Contrary to what we see, and the reality Chicago is coping with, Rose fears the status quo won't remain unchanged, according to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence.
"Derrick is worried that the Bulls are going to lose what they have," a league source told Lawrence. "He doesn’t want to go through rebuilding."
Someone ought to remind Rose he's in no position to make demands. That the Bulls are where they are because of him.
Fear is, of course, different from implicit demands. And it's not Rose's fault he'll have played in 50 games, including playoffs, over the past three seasons when 2014-15 rolls around. But he'll want to warm up to change nonetheless.
The Bulls are going to look different when he returns again. Much different.
No matter what.
Next season, the Bulls owe nearly $65 million in guaranteed salary, per ShamSports.com. That's with both Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich exploring free agency, mind you.
USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt previously reported Chicago wouldn't let Deng go anywhere. He's their leading scorer, their go-to guy with Rose down and their best perimeter defender. But that was before a left Achilles injury.
Deng returned to action against the Toronto Raptors and played 35 minutes, but this is a guy who has battled injuries consistently since 2011-12. Though he usually finds a way to play through them, there's always the chance he eventually doesn't. Is that a risk the Bulls can afford to take on a then-29-year-old this summer?
Remember, Deng is a two-time All-Star who won't come cheap. Any contract the Bulls sign him to will most likely approach or exceed $10 million annually, thrusting them into luxury-tax territory. And for what? A roster that hasn't proved it can stay healthy enough to contend?
Smart investments never seemed so half-baked.
Jimmy Butler, who only just returned to the lineup after battling turf toe, will be up for an extension soon, too. "Sign both at all cost" diatribes don't take into account Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who isn't so much stingy as he is conscious of what he has.
What he has right now is a Bulls roster loaded with questions and expenses, headed for an offseason in which they must find a replacement for Hinrich and decide whether they're going to retain Deng.
Can't leave Carlos Boozer out, either. The Bulls have flirted with amnestying him in the past, and while they've refrained from giving him the ax, they'll have another chance to reconsider this summer.
Ousting him just before his contract expires after next season seems illogical, but say the Bulls want to re-sign Deng. Say they hand him a deal north of $10 million annually. For fear of paying severe luxury-tax penalties, Boozer could become collateral damage. A casualty.
There's always the possibility Deng and Hinrich return while Boozer goes nowhere, but when there's this much money at stake, and this many questions, odds of Chicago yes-ing Rose to death appear slim.
Come to grips with what Rose hasn't: Chicago needs a new building block.
Rose isn't short on talent or potential. He's the only MVP not named LeBron James the NBA has had in a half-decade. Injuries cannot erase what he's done.
But they can make him unreliable.
When Rose returns in 2014-15, he'll have appeared in 50 games through three seasons. Fifty. Fewer than 17 a season. Teams cannot build title contenders around 17 games a season. The Bulls need someone else.
Restricted financially, the Bulls aren't going to purchase another superstar. Not like this. Even without Deng on the books next season, they're over the salary cap. Spending power only comes through a series of salary dumps this season or by allowing Deng to walk and amnestying Boozer this summer. Or by sifting through the draft.
Each of those scenarios demand sacrifice. Require loss. The Bulls cannot create financial flexibility without making trades, and they cannot snag a projected superstar out of college without tanking.
If Rose were healthy, there wouldn't be an issue. You don't rebuild—you build around him. But Rose isn't healthy, and once he is, Chicago cannot count on him to stay that way.
"You can be a fool if you want to," Rose said when asked about people who question his reliability as the Bulls’ franchise cornerstone, per Sports Illustrated's Chris Johnson.
Real fools are the ones who won't ask questions. Who won't accept reality.
Real fools are the ones who believe Chicago has any other choice but to change.
Different For Sake of Better
"Different" doesn't have to mean worse. In the long run, it most certainly shouldn't. Intermittently, it could.
Contenders aren't built overnight, and the Bulls, despite having plenty of talent, are staring at a roster that isn't quite good enough. That isn't quite healthy enough.
Change is necessary to point this franchise in the right direction. When Rose returns, Deng could be gone. Boozer could be gone. Head coach Tom Thibodeau, who has been linked to the New York Knicks and is consistently at odds with the higher-ups, could be gone. When the alternative guarantees nothing, you never know.
Standing pat dictates the Bulls waste millions of dollars on a roster constructed around a delicate point guard (Rose), injury-prone and likely expensive small forward (Deng), soon-to-be-expensive swingman (Butler) and a center who, on any given night, is playing on one foot (Noah).
Injuries have made it so this team, even when healthy, doesn't have a No. 1. Not Rose, not Deng, not Noah. Chicago cannot stand for that. Somehow, someway, the Bulls will enact change. They'll make trades. Or, like they did last summer with Nate Robinson, they'll let people walk.
All they have right now is potential, and $70-plus million needs to buy more than maybes. That much coin should buy durability. Should buy certainty.
That much money should buy everything the Bulls will scramble for between this season and next, whether Rose likes it or not—answers.
*All stats in this article were used courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.