Nothing sets a franchise back more than a serious injury to a star player. Just ask the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls entered the playoffs last season with the best record in the NBA, a chance at glory on the horizon with the Miami Heat the only legitimate threat to derail their championship aspirations. And then, Derrick Rose went down.
Rose tore his ACL in the team’s first playoff game. It was the death blow for a team with so much promise, as Chicago went on to lose its first-round series to Philadelphia in heartbreaking fashion.
The Bulls had to plan for Rose’s absence this season, and they’ve done an admirable job. Chicago is 30-20, 4.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference, poised to make a strong second-half push when their superstar returns. When he does, the Bulls will be the most dangerous title contender in the NBA.
The exact date for Rose’s return hasn’t been set yet, but according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Rose has done some light practicing with the team and has been “cleared for more contact.” Johnson quoted coach Tom Thibodeau as saying:
It’s going to be awhile. It’s the next step in his rehab. Everyone has to be patient. He’s doing fine. He’s playing more, practicing more. We want him to concentrate on his rehab. We want the team to continue concentrating on improvement and the next opponent. Nothing has changed.
It’s been nearly three weeks since Thibodeau’s comments on Rose’s rehab, but it seems the door is beginning to open for a return in the near future. According to Sarah Spain of ESPN, some in the Bulls organization hope to have him back shortly after the All-Star break.
Rose’s imminent return is obviously tremendous news for the Bulls organization. He’s arguably the best scoring point guard in the league, and without Rose in the lineup, Chicago has struggled to score a lot of points. The team is currently No. 26 in the league with a 93.7 points-per-game average.
While the scoring hasn’t been plentiful in Chicago, what the Bulls have managed to do with their superstar on the shelf for nine months is nothing short of remarkable. At 30-20, Chicago isn’t far off the pace in the East.
There will no doubt be a transition period when Rose does return. Team chemistry is a major factor in success on the floor, but don’t expect the adjustment period to be long-lived. Chicago is a terrific team, and with Rose back on the court, it has a chance to dominate the Eastern Conference, especially with a tremendously deep bench.
That depth will play a huge role in making a run at the Eastern Conference title this year. Rose’s versatility and scoring ability means his stand-ins (Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich) will have an opportunity to continue contributing in various sets. Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli will be afforded extra rest as well, while still being given opportunities to contribute as they have done all year.
It isn’t just talent that wins championships. Without a deep bench and the ability to play matchups, no team can make a championship run. Just ask the Miami Heat of a few years ago.
Rose’s return will add depth, an elite scoring presence and strong leadership back to a team that is already a talented group both from the perimeter and in the paint. Chicago doesn’t have many holes.
There aren’t many teams as deep as the Bulls will be when Rose returns this season, and that’s a very scary proposition for every team in the league. A superstar scorer and a ton of depth is the recipe for an NBA championship. Expect the Bulls to pick up where they left off last year in pursuit of a title in 2013.