CHICAGO — Nobody in the locker room saw it coming. When the Chicago Bulls announced Tuesday night that Derrick Rose would need to undergo surgery after tearing the same cartilage in his right knee that sidelined him last season, his teammates were as taken aback as anybody.
There was no warning, just a gut punch. And then the Bulls were right back where they've been the last two seasons.
"I'm still shocked," Kirk Hinrich said Wednesday morning at shootaround. "I had no idea that he had an injury like that yesterday at practice. Just feel for him. I can't imagine what he's gone through these last three years."
Wednesday night, the Bulls played like a team still reeling from the loss of Rose. They played competitive basketball against the Charlotte Hornets in the first half but let things slip away in the second half, ultimately losing 98-86. It wasn't the 39-point blowout the Bulls suffered at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers two days after Rose's injury last season, but the energy was low and the team was distracted. And understandably so.
"Mentally, I think we were a little bit drained with everything that happened," said Joakim Noah after the game. "Angry, sad…you know, he doesn't deserve it. It's just really disappointing."
Noah called it disappointing. Hinrich called it "devastating." Pau Gasol went with "heartbreaking." The Bulls have plenty of experience with losing Rose to season-ending injuries, but that doesn't make it any less crushing each time it happens.
"I don't know what to say other than it's so unfair," head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The guy has been through so much. What he has put into it and this one, not that anytime you have surgery it's tough, but this will hopefully be much shorter than the other ones. But the big thing is our concern for him first as a person."
Preparing for life without Rose means making adjustments on the fly, just as the Bulls were starting to be comfortable. Aaron Brooks started just his second game of the season in Rose's place, awkwardly shoved into a facilitator role when his strength all season has been as a second-unit spark plug. He scored 12 points but cooled off after a hot start and shot 1-of-5 from three-point range and 3-of-8 from the free-throw line.
"You can't go [high-intensity] for long periods of time," Brooks said. "It's an adjustment I have to make."
The Bulls still don't know exactly how long Rose will be out, and they won't until he has the surgery. That will come later in the week. Early reports like the one from ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg have suggested this injury isn't as serious as the one Rose suffered last season, and Jimmy Butler seemed optimistic that the former league MVP will be back this season.
But after everything Rose has gone through, the feeling around the locker room and the organization has been one of caution. Nobody wants to prognosticate something as important as this.
"It's not even about basketball with any of us," Butler said. "It's about where his mind's at. We can worry about him, but it's not about basketball. It's about where he is as a person."
Even still, the Bulls have the rest of the season to play, with or (more likely) without Rose.
"Next man up, unfortunately," Butler said. "It's hard whenever you lose your leader. We just love having the guy around. It's not the same when he's not."
"It's a tough day because of the concern for Derrick, but the games are going to keep coming," said Thibodeau. "We are going to have to figure it out and improve. The intentions were good tonight. It was a tough day, but tomorrow we will gather ourselves and get ready for the next one."
That's all the Bulls can do. This is a group that has done this before, more times than it would like. They're a different team without Rose, a lower-scoring, aesthetically uglier group that relies on defense and a slow grind. It's not going to be pretty, but they're going to find other means to win.
Rose, meanwhile, has to find the means to get his career back on track for the third time in three years.
"He has great mental toughness," Thibodeau said. "He has gotten past a lot of hurdles. This is another one. He'll get past this one too. But it's not an easy thing to deal with."
It doesn't get any easier either. Fighting as hard as Rose has to get back some of his career, his livelihood, has been torture for him to endure and for his teammates to watch.
"I feel bad for him," Noah said. "But I know he's a tough guy and he's going to bounce back."
Sean Highkin covers the Chicago Bulls for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @highkin