Chicago Bulls fans:
I know, it’s hard. There isn’t enough liquor in the world to get us through this latest one. We could swim in that stuff—drown in it—and we’d still feel crushed under the weight of Derrick Rose’s torn lateral meniscus.
We’d still feel like losers, victims to a cosmic joke we don’t understand.
We could’ve been contenders. We could’ve had class.
We were supposed to be taken care of; we were meant to be comfortable watching these games, bloated by the methodically swelling pride of another league-leading win total and the symphonic MVP-chasing jaunts of Mr. Rose—the very finest athletic product of our city.
Instead we’re deciding which appendages to keep. Is Luol Deng going to be wearing the red and black much longer? Is Carlos Boozer? Could even Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler be on the chopping block for a trade?
Suddenly, nothing seems in place. If nothing’s working (and nothing is; the team’s lost 11 of 16 games since Rose left Portland in crutches), then why not unfix it? Why not take this latest tragic collapse as an opportunity to reshuffle a roster that would have had problems with or without its central cog, its starring man?
This year, the next one or even in 2014-15, the dilemma’s the same—the Bulls need to score. Watching them sadly futz about through arduous offensive sets for nearly the entire shot clock, over and over again, only to settle for and miss a low-percentage attempt can only be palatable for so much longer.
Just how paltry the offense has been since losing Rose (excluding their triple-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, they’ve averaged just 80.2 points per game) exposes how weak it would have been with him, too. A successful NBA team must have a collection of men capable of consistently creating high-percentage shots for themselves and others.
The Bulls now have none.
But who among us believes the front office will do anything tectonic to this assemblage of talent?
Despite not having Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli—as they did last year, to pick up some of Rose’s scoring slack—and despite not having an offseason to prepare for time without their mega-star, the Bulls are likely to eschew any sort of tank job and put together another valiant effort this season.
They won’t compete for a title, but they’ll give us enough to care about, and they’ll keep their culture in place for Rose to return to.
The sudden improvement of D.J. Augustin—signed to fill a fraction of the void left by Rose—should serve as a reminder of just how much Tom Thibodeau and his team’s mainframe can do. Like Robinson before him, Augustin is a forgotten guard who once carried terrific NBA upside.
Now, he’s the starting point man for one of the most obsessive coaches in the NBA.
Thibodeau is sure to keep maximizing the talents of Augustin (who’s up to 15.3 points and 6.3 assists per game over his last three contests) because he needs him in order to win.
And if it’s not Augustin, it’ll be someone else.
Fans, rest easier: We’ve got a franchise that, however unlucky, is starting to form into the kind of continuity-driven, thorough basketball machine that the San Antonio Spurs have long been.
If the Bulls can ever manage a full season of health with a truly talented core, an amazing backbone will surely be in place to help get them over many a postseason hump.
Our patience was tested mightily through Derrick Rose’s last injury.
Now, we’ll have to find even more, and try to enjoy the feisty, fighting team in front of us.
No blowups are needed, no drastic changes just now. Just more and better basketball from a crew we know to be capable.
It could be worse, and it will get better.