On his own, the former MVP is not enough for the Bulls to contend for a title. Contenders are now founded upon multiple superstars, playing and fighting together in a collective effort to win NBA titles and forge dynasties. The few exceptions are convoyed by select game-changers who can carry immense burdens on their own; superstars who can use help but don't need it.
Rose is no longer one of those superstars. The Bulls need another luminary, someone to complement their injury-prone point guard. Preemptive chatter has connected them to Anthony, a free-agent-to-be who's widely considered a flight risk because of the New York Knicks' season-long misfortunes.
A source close to Anthony told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that Chicago is one of his preferred free-agency destinations, suggesting he's open to joining forces with Rose. But is his interest powerful enough to make it a reality? Is Rose enough to sell him on Chicago?
Three years ago, when Rose was playing his way toward an MVP award, this wouldn't even be a question. Of course he's enough. He's Derrick Rose.
Two serious knee injuries later, and it's a necessary inquiry with a tremendously different outcome.
(Too-) Familiar Spaces
Since 2011, including playoffs, Rose has appeared in 50 games. Assuming he doesn't return until next season, he'll have played in just 10 since 2012. Why would Anthony want to play alongside someone who has appeared in fewer games than Amar'e Stoudemire since he joined the Knicks?
You remember Stoudemire, don't you? The first superstar to arrive in New York. The superstar Anthony forced his way out of Denver to play with.
The $100 million investment turned tragic bust.
Knee, back, ankle and self-inflicted hand injuries have taken Stoudemire's once-promising tenure with the Knicks and destroyed it. Glimpses of the player he used to be are still seen, but as quickly as they come, they're gone, chased away by reality.
No matter how well Stoudemire plays, he'll never be the same; he'll never be the star Anthony wanted to play with. That he comes off the bench now is a constant reminder, a dark memento of what was supposed to be but never was.
"As a friend, it's hard for me to sit back and act like it doesn't bother me because I know how hard of a worker he is [and] I know the time that he puts in the gym to train and rehab," Anthony said in October of Stoudemire, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley. "To see him go forward and then take some steps back every time, it's just sad."
It would be even sadder for him to do it all over again.
In parts of four different seasons with the Knicks, Anthony has appeared in 194 regular-season games (so far). Of those 194, Stoudemire has appeared in 96 alongside Anthony, per NBA.com (subscription required)—or less than half (49.5 percent). If you don't think playing with Rose—who, while younger, is equally as reliant on his explosiveness as STAT once was—presents the same risk, think again.
Rose is injured. Again. It's a different knee (right), but it's the same story.
The Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley has been told that Rose is ahead of schedule and could resume practicing with the Bulls later in the season. We've heard that before. Something similar, anyway.
Last season, there was an entire campaign built around his return, but the return never came. Rose sat out all of 2012-13 and will miss most of 2013-14.
Alone, he's an enfeebled draw—especially for Anthony, who knows what it's like to invest years in a teammate who never meets his expectations and is rarely present to offer the help he needs.
Why It's Important
Playing the "Rose is younger" card gets old. So does the "Rose is better than Stoudemire" card. We're not comparing their abilities or value when healthy; we're admitting they're both frequently unhealthy.
While this is a concern for Anthony, it's a bigger one for Chicago.
There's a common misconception that pursuing Anthony won't take much. One general manager even told ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required), "At the end of the day, I think they'll go after Melo," like it's a near-fact, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Chicago has roughly $63.8 million committed to its books next season, per ShamSports. All along, it's been assumed Carlos Boozer would be the only collateral damage if the Bulls decide to chase Anthony. Amnesty him, and the Bulls are there, ready to offer 'Melo the max.
But that's just not true.
Removing Boozer's $16.8 million salary still leaves them with more than $47 million in commitments. With the expected arrival of a sweet-shooting Nikola Mirotic next season, the Bulls also need to dump Taj Gibson's and Mike Dunleavy's contracts just to have a realistic chance of signing Anthony.
That's a lot to give up for the chance at maybe landing someone who isn't LeBron James or Kevin Durant. It also means the Bulls have to meet prior obligations before even attempting to sign Anthony—a commitment to dismantle a large portion of their current core.
Doing so increases the importance of Rose. Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler factor into the equation as well, but Rose becomes the main selling point on a shallower Bulls team. So, if the Bulls are going to make a run at 'Melo, they have to not only be sure they want him, but they also must be certain that Rose is a valuable enough asset to land him.
Is Rose Enough?
Amnestying Boozer may be the plan no matter what, but giving up on Gibson and Dunleavy is an audible—and a serious one at that.
Beyond Anthony and LeBron, this summer's free-agency ranks are wildly overrated. If both he and LeBron decide to stay where they are, the Bulls won't be able to spend the money they've made available—if they can even clear that much room—on another superstar.
Even if they could, even if they decide to turn their attentions toward Chris Bosh or someone else, Rose isn't enough. Not right now.
Maybe he returns for 2013-14 healthy and stays that way. Maybe he plays like he did in 2010-11, proving anyone who thinks he cannot headline a championship contender wrong. Maybe after next season, this all becomes a non-issue.
Until then, it's an issue.
Anthony won't have the opportunity to see Rose play for an extended period of time before joining the Bulls. He'll have to sign on knowing he's taking a familiar risk, waging a gamble he's still lumbering through now.
"That’s the only thing I care about," Anthony said, per The New York Times' Scott Cacciola. "Everything else is irrelevant to me when it comes to basketball. Championship is the only thing on my mind."
If and when Anthony leaves the Knicks, it won't be for the Bulls. It will be for a team that promises a healthier core and better title shot.
It will be for a team offering the exact opposite of everything he would be leaving behind.