As the Chicago Bulls sit in first place in the Central division, and reports continue to surface, per Chicago Sun-Times, about Derrick Rose's increased activity in his rehab of a torn ACL, it seems almost evident that the star point guard will play this season.
Doing so would be a mistake.
The Bulls are 13-10, and over the last two weeks, the team has played their best basketball of the year. They lost by just nine points to a very good Memphis Grizzlies team on Monday night, but before that the Bulls had won seven of their last nine games.
Why have they been so good?
Some of the answer to that is what you've come to expect from the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau: defense (second in the NBA in points allowed) and rebounding. The Bulls have out-rebounded all but three of their opponents in the last 10 games.
They are the seventh-ranked rebounding team after a slow start to the season in that category. Joakim Noah's improved play has a lot to do with the excellence in both of these areas as well.
The relatively unexpected factor in the Bulls' recent play has been the performance of Marco Belinelli. Since Richard Hamilton went down with his latest injury, Belinelli has stepped in and given the Bulls their best shooting guard play since Ben Gordon was in town.
Bellini is averaging 18 points per game in his last seven games—all starts.
Even though Belinelli has been so good recently, the Bulls still aren't ready to beat the Miami Heat and other elite teams in the NBA Playoffs—even with Rose. I understand the notion, as this team has pined for the type of play from the SG position that Belinelli is providing, but we must understand that the playoffs and regular season are two different things.
The Bulls had to learn that lesson in 2010 when they dominated the Miami Heat in the regular season—only to fall in five games during the Eastern Conference Finals.
A backcourt rotation of Rose, Belinelli, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson would be the best backcourt the Bulls have had in a while, but the rest of the league's elite teams have improved as well. The New York Knicks are finally a complete team, the Oklahoma City Thunder are better, and the Heat are...the Heat.
The Bulls still aren't good enough to knock those teams off in the playoffs. However, because it is feasible they play them all close—barring some setback—Rose will be back this season.
If Belinelli can play in the playoffs the way he has over the last seven games, and Rose can be himself by April, then the Bulls are certainly a better team than they were last season. However, those are two huge ifs.
Letting Rose sit for the season is still the safest and smartest approach.
If this core the Bulls have now is really good enough to beat the elite teams, it's best to allow them an entire training camp together to prove it. Rose will have have had ample time to rest and recover, and/or the team could move one of their assets (Noah or Luol Deng) to get a second star.
This is a team still in need of a second go-to guy.
Belinelli and Noah's play has been a nice surprise, but that isn't the answer to what the Heat and Thunder have and thus not a reason to bring Rose back this season.
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