Derrick Rose's Absence Can Make Bulls Stronger, Not Weaker, for PlayoffsFebruary 27, 2015
Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls aren't done yet this season, and they would be wise to heed the following lesson.
It was Kobe Bryant's fourth NBA season, and he spent most of it trying to prove his individual worth. The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off their first title with Bryant and NBA MVP Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, but the repeat season was plagued by an overweight O'Neal resting heavily on those laurels while up in arms about Bryant's overzealousness to elevate his individual game.
It wasn't until Bryant hurt his foot late in the season and missed basically three weeks that things changed. The Lakers' identity was reclaimed with O'Neal filling the void and becoming active at both ends.
Bryant watched from the side and came to accept what was the best way for the team to play and win in the playoffs.
The Lakers went from struggling to ensure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs to winning 23 of their final 24 games. Bryant was still scintillating at times, but he didn't overdo it.
The point is that as much as you might expect a key player's injury right before the playoffs to ruin a team's chemistry, it is indeed possible for it to tighten everyone's focus.
In the case of the Bulls here in Rose's sixth NBA season, there has been confusion as to the team's identity.
Even though Rose has improved his play as the season has gone on, the Bulls are at their best as a defense-first, multioption machine—not with Rose out there trying to reclaim his 2011 NBA MVP trophy with individual dominance.
Rose's absence for the next four to six weeks after what was very minor knee surgery on Friday, as announced by the team, will clarify the Bulls' style and purpose—in the eyes of head coach Tom Thibodeau, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and all the rest, including Rose.
Only a fool would count the Bulls out of this season.
The Eastern Conference remains empty of real title threats besides the unproven Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who haven't been through anything meaningful together—with neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love having played even a single playoff game.
The Bulls are obviously used to playing without Rose for stretches. Playing without the point guard now can be a blessing—for them to dig deeper for the tenacity they've found in years past while he has nursed those knees.
The Bulls need both team tenacity and Rose's individual excellence for their playoff run, but they need that team toughness first.
Rose being a ball-stopping, low-percentage guy shooting too many lean-in three-pointers isn't going to be the answer. Rose being a guy who creates key shots for himself and others at critical times is going to be the answer.
Despite the premature heartstring tugs upon word of Rose's latest knee pain, there's no reason to be worried about him after a 10-minute procedure to remove the equivalent of what the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson reported as a "pebble in shoe."
For a doctor to trim pieces of meniscus from the knee is as negligible as sports surgeries come. Bulls general manager Gar Forman talks more about the surgery in this video from the Bulls' website.
Two years ago, Metta World Peace had a small flap of cartilage trimmed—like Rose—and returned to the court 12 days later. It's understandable that everyone assumes the worst when it comes to Rose's knees, but this is not a big deal for him or anyone.
So when we step back and fairly analyze the rest of this season, the situation is simple: The Bulls need Rose to reach that extra gear in the playoffs, but they certainly don't need that gear all the time.
The Hawks have been an example all season of how a team can click without being dependent on one ball-carrier. The Bulls need to get back to their core values now, too.
The way they are going to beat the Cavaliers is with the old Bulls defense that suffocates and frustrates opponents.
Cleveland has been spending all season trying to condition Love to accept being mainly a floor-spacer because his outside threat is what can prevent a big defense such as Chicago's from closing down the paint. Despite recent improvements, the Cavaliers defense is going to have problems in the playoffs as well.
If Rose returns in a manner that maximizes Chicago's other threats instead of muting them, watch out.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.