It's their job to push forward in a way that safeguards them against another untimely, seemingly campaign-crushing absence.
That's where Pau Gasol comes in.
The Bulls have already shown they can hang tough in the Eastern Conference without Rose. Led by the fiery Joakim Noah, coached by the no-excuses Tom Thibodeau and concertedly driven by a need to win and disprove conventional wisdom, the Bulls, so long as they have some bodies, are forever dangerous.
Winning 48 games without Rose last season was no joke, even though it came as part of the historically unsightly Eastern Conference. Rose is a former MVP, a top-three point guard and top-seven player when healthy.
In previous knowledge, in Rose's previous stasis, the Bulls find hope. If he comes back, stays healthy and continues eviscerating defenses with matter-of-fact stoicism, they are a much better team.
With the way the East is structured, a healthy Rose makes the Bulls conference favorites.
People tend to forget they had a top-five offense in 2011-12, the last time Rose was (semi-)healthy. They ranked fifth in offensive efficiency.
Offense is what Rose brings to a Bulls team that ranked 28th in efficiency last season. He injects unflappable playmaking and unstoppable scoring into their rotation. He alone can change everything for them.
If he's healthy.
That's the colossal condition of all this: Rose being healthy.
We tire of hearing said sentiments at the end of every optimistic opinion, but it's the truth. His health is not guaranteed. The Bulls know this all too well.
Placing the hopes of an entire city and team upon his shoulders is excessive knowing he's still working his way back from injury. The Bulls can survive without him, but they're also aware he remains their championship lifeline, like SB Nation's Paul Flannery writes:
They'll still have that great defense and one of the best tactical coaches in the league, along with grinders and role players who excel at their jobs. The obvious concern is Derrick Rose, who has now missed most of two seasons and three playoffs since winning the MVP.
With a healthy Rose, a legit low-post scorer in Gasol and some improved shooting from McDermott and Mirotic, the Bulls are as close to a favorite as you can get at the moment.
Every move the Bulls have made this offseason—even after missing out on Carmelo Anthony—stands to have a profoundly positive impact on their direction.
From the addition of Gasol to moving up in the draft for Doug "Get Some McBuckets" McDermott to amnestying Carlos Boozer, the Bulls have done things right. And by doing things right, they've elevated the standard to which they are held.
With or without Rose.
This is no longer a Bulls team desperate for Rose to be healthy. Well, it is and it isn't.
Superstars like Rose are indispensable. The Bulls cannot replace what he does, the offense he brings, the hope he inspires. But increasing their Rose-less ceiling is the next best thing.
More than anything, that's what Gasol does: improve the Bulls no matter what.
Noah was Chicago's primary playmaker in Rose's absence last season, often running the offense from just inside the rainbow or beginning sets from any one of the blocks. Gasol is an extension of Noah's playmaking, as Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta kindly breaks down for us:
The other thing, and perhaps the hidden beauty to the Bulls' thinking here, is the pairing of Joakim Noah with Gasol in the paint. Among forward/centers last season, the two were first and third, respectively, in assists per game. That’s quite a passing tandem to have up front.
In Gasol and Noah, considering both sides of the ball, leadership and basketball IQ, the Bulls have arguably the most complete tandem at the position in the NBA (though the Los Angeles Clippers with Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan would argue they have the best). When you factor in Taj Gibson coming off the bench, that’s quite a trio.
Notice how that trio doesn't include Rose, because it doesn't need to.
The Bulls still need him to become a juggernaut. But they don't need him to be the 2010-11 version of himself for them to contend in the Eastern Conference. They don't even need him at all in the most desperate sense of the word.
A 48-win team just added a passing-savvy big man fresh off averaging 17.4 points and 3.4 assists per game as the offensive focal point of the tanking Los Angeles Lakers.
Though Gasol has missed 55 games himself over the last two seasons, it doesn't matter. He played in 109 more games than Chicago had him for. Regardless of whether he plays all 82 contests, the Bulls now have someone who, in the absence of Rose, can both create his own shot and make plays for others.
Combine Noah's and Gasol's passing with the sweet-shooting Nikola Mirotic and McDermott, and the Bulls have options—flexibility they haven't enjoyed for more than two years.
"In the NBA, injuries are part of it," Thibodeau said, explaining whether Rose's injury could possibly hinder Chicago's ability to improve this offseason, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. "And most guys go through a period in their own career when they're injured. It's adversity that you have to get past and get over and most of these guys have done that, so I don't think that's going to be a big deal."
Rose's health bill didn't prevent Gasol from joining the Bulls. And Gasol's arrival has taken much-needed pressure off the point guard's rehabilitating knees and psychological state.
Once Rose officially returns, there will be pressure, make no mistake. He is not absolved of all expectations and responsibility.
That aspect of Chicago's hope, of their ambitions, hasn't changed. Rose still has an immensely heavy burden to carry. Gasol just makes it so he doesn't have to bear most of it on his own.
Or, within the worst-case scenario (injury), Gasol makes it so the Bulls don't need Rose to bear any of it at all.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!