"Uh oh, Rose came down bad on his left foot. Holding onto his knee, holding onto his knee and down."
These words, echoed by Kevin Harlan on April 28, 2012, are piercing to the ears of Chicago Bulls fans. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've had nightmares of those words. Having to hear it constantly on "The Return" commercials did not exactly help matters either.
After Derrick Rose went down to a torn ACL on April 28, 2012, in the blink of an eye the Bulls' championship hopes had to be put on hold. Suddenly, the future of a team that went 112-36 over a two-year span had to be broken up. The "Bench Mob," which included C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and John Lucas III were all replaced.
Heading into the 2012-2013 season, nobody really knew what to expect out of the Bulls. With a new "Bench Mob," and the return date of Derrick Rose up in the air, expectations were not exactly high for this team.
The hope among the Bulls organization was that if this team could hold it down until Rose returns, they could make some noise in the playoffs.
So far, so good.
Entering the All-Star break, the Bulls currently sit at 30-22, fifth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Central Division. Thanks to Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls still rank amongst the NBA's best defenses, giving up 91.5 points per game, third in the NBA.
Scoring, on the other hand, has not been so pretty, as the Bulls rank fourth worst in the NBA with an average of 93.1 points per game.
This should not come as a surprise either.
Without Rose, Nate Robinson is really the only guy who can create his own shot consistently. There's never been a shot that Robinson doesn't like.
Kirk Hinrich, who was signed to be the starting point guard until Rose returns, has missed 12 games and has battled various injuries. Hinrich has also struggled to find his shot thus far, shooting just 38 percent from the field.
The heavily criticized Carlos Boozer has been the Bulls' best option on offense this season, as he averaged 19.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in the month of January. Don't think for a second that makes him a beloved man in Chicago. If he was, the Bulls wouldn't be talking about shipping him to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani (via Chicago Tribune).
It's no secret that roles have changed on this team with Rose out. Joakim Noah is having a career year, averaging 11.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, which earned him his first All-Star appearance. His shooting is must improved as well, no matter how ugly it may look. Noah is shooting 76 percent from the free-throw line.
Joining Noah in the All-Star Game is Luol Deng, who made his second straight appearance. Deng leads the Bulls in points per game (16.7), as well as the entire NBA in minutes per game (39.6). He has become the Bulls' iron man since Tom Thibodeau took over.
Replacing Ronnie Brewer, enter Jimmy Butler. The second-year forward out of Marquette has filled in nicely this season and truly is a Thibodeau-esque player. When Luol Deng had to miss some time due to injury, Butler stepped up averaging 14.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and an incredible 44.9 minutes in five contests.
Just like with the old core, every player on this Bulls team knows their role. Credit Tom Thibodeau for that.
However, heading into the second half of the season, the Bulls face some question marks. They've lost four of five games, and Joakim Noah has been battling plantar fasciitis.
Oh yeah, there's also a question mark about Rose. In an All-Star weekend where Rose isn't even playing, he is still making headlines.
In a recent interview, Rose has said he won't be rushing his return, and "wouldn't mind missing this year." (via CBSSports)
If you know anything about Rose, you know he wants to be out there more than anyone. He wouldn't make this stuff up.
What if he rushes back too soon and re-injures his knee?
We saw what happened to Gilbert Arenas when he rushed back from his knee injury. He was never the same player.
I want Derrick Rose back just as much as the next guy, and would love nothing more than to see him play this season. It's all on him, though. If he isn't feeling 100 percent confident in his knee, than he shouldn't play. It's that simple. He's that important to both the NBA and the Chicago Bulls franchise.
Realistically, the Bulls aren't winning a championship this year. They don't have enough on offense to do so, even if Rose does come back at a high level. The Bulls have held it down without him this season, but can only go so far.
All I know is, if I have to witness Rose injure his knee again, I might sob more than I did the first time. Oops. Did I just admit that?