The Chicago Bulls are a franchise in transition.
With a championship window all but closed for the present, they're hoping to keep one open for the future.
The swirling winds of change have already hit this organization and aren't likely to leave anytime soon. Amid all that movement, though, is one constant presence—Derrick Rose.
The three-time All-Star is just 25 years old. He already has an MVP award under his belt, and history says he's yet to play his best basketball.
But there are injury concerns in play here. Major ones, at that.
As the Bulls cast out on the always-treacherous rebuilding waters, there is just one question that needs to be asked: Is Rose still the type of player a team can build around?
He's the youngest player ever to earn MVP honors and the only one other than LeBron James to get that elite-level hardware over the last five seasons. Former teammate Luol Deng called him "just a great kid" at the award ceremony, via ESPN Chicago.
A kid with an unbelievably high ceiling.
He's still so young as a basketball player, but he's already put himself in exclusive NBA company.
During that MVP run, the then-22-year-old became just the eighth player in league history to average at least 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds for a season. The company he joined that year deserves its own special wing inside the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: Larry Bird, John Havlicek, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Dwyane Wade and Jerry West.
Rose is too good of an assist man to label as a scoring guard, and he's far too explosive to be called a "pure" point guard. He's a quiet leader, supremely confident and the type of ultra-competitor that comes around once or twice in a generation.
It feels like his championship collection should have started already.
He powered the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins in 2010-11, then followed that up with an Eastern Conference-leading 50 wins during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign.
He blended perfectly with coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive mentality, but his explosiveness added another dimension to Chicago's attack. With Rose at the wheel, the Bulls were both the immovable object and the unstoppable force.
But notice how all of this is in the past tense?
That's because injuries have decimated his present and hung giant question marks over his future.
...are just as massive.
He's played just 50 total games over the last three seasons, including the playoffs. His last 11 appearances have featured a torn ACL in his left knee and a torn meniscus in his right one.
When it comes to the future, Rose's might be as uncertain as it gets. Yet that's the one that Chicago will keep latching onto until proven otherwise. He's a tremendous talent, assuming his body allows him to ever capture his old form. The Bulls sound more than ready to keep operating under that assumption.
"Rebuilding is not a word to use when you still have Joakim Noah on your team or with Derrick Rose expected to come back healthy," executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, via Johnson.
Even if he does get healthy, it will be healthy with an asterisk. Nothing will change the fact that he's playing on a pair of surgically repaired wheels.
No one knows how Rose's return will look. As B/R Featured Columnist Kelly Scaletta opined, Rose could come back as an All-Star reserve, a role player or anything in between. He might have another MVP award in his future...or a career-ending injury.
There are so many questions, none of which can be answered before he returns to the floor.
The Bulls are working to clear cap space, but it remains to be seen what they'll be able to do with that extra coin. Rose has already made it known he won't be responsible for bringing other players to the Windy City:
“I don’t recruit. If anyone wants to play with me, I don’t mind playing with...but as far as recruiting, I never did, never will,” - D Rose— Jonathan Zaslow (@ZaslowShow) September 19, 2013
Even though he'll be the biggest concern that any potential impact player would have.
When speculating on the possibility of the Bulls pursuing LeBron James this summer, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel noted, "[I]t would be a heck of a leap of faith for a player to sign up to play long-term alongside Rose in light of all of Derrick's injuries."
Chicago already made its leap of faith with Rose. He has another $60 million headed his way over the next three seasons, via ShamSports.com. Should the Bulls be feeling any buyer's remorse? Or is there still a work of art to be painted with Rose as the centerpiece?
Still a Franchise Cornerstone?
The Bulls have to hope that he is.
He may have spent the early portion of his career in the "untouchable" realm, but he could still move to the "untradeable" side if his body fails him.
Chicago's future is interlaced with Rose's. The Bulls will still go as far as he's able to carry them.
He was the reason this current core had a championship ceiling. With him out of the equation, there's no reason to keep those pieces in place.
Chicago can use this opportunity to scratch its worst itches. The Bulls can pluck a young piece (or two) out of the fully loaded 2014 draft class. They can try to find the superstar sidekick that Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer never were.
They can hit the reset button without the typical plummet that accompanies it. If Rose is never the same, they're just another team building from the ground up. If he pushes himself back to the elite stage, he'll carry the Bulls right along with him.
His medical concerns still make him a risky investment. But betting against him sounds like an even worse idea.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.