Bulls can't count on Rose to be franchise player

With 2nd knee surgery sure to take its toll, team needs to begin retooling

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after point guard Derrick Rose underwent knee surgery

On the day Bulls superstar Derrick Rose's professional career peaked nearly two years ago at the Berto Center, he gave his mother, Brenda, a look that suggested it doesn't get any better than this.

But who really thought basketball wouldn't for the kid from Englewood who grew up into a basketball heir to Michael Jordan?

"I can finally say this now: 'Mom, we finally made it,' '' Rose declared Dec. 21, 2011, after signing a five-year, $94.8 million contract.

Make it, the Roses did, and nobody ever can take away Rose's family or his fortune. But, sadly, the same cannot be said for the former NBA most valuable player's greatness after knee surgery Monday to repair the medial meniscus caused the Bulls to rule Rose out the rest of the season. In a 72-word news release confirming the worst-case scenario, the Bulls called the procedure performed by team physician Brian Cole "successful.''

That's one word. Crushing is another.

Only 129 days after Rose signed the richest contract in franchise history to achieve generational wealth, he tore the ACL in his left knee in a playoff game and missed the following season. Now, just 10 games after his regular-season return, Rose felt his meniscus tear Friday night in Portland against the Blazers. Chicago's biggest sports superstar slowly and painfully has morphed into the city's most valuable patient.

Repairing Rose's meniscus Monday forever impaired the Bulls' vision of a championship and the perception of a homegrown point guard everybody thought would lead them to it. For the first time since the Bulls got lucky in the 2008 NBA lottery and drafted Rose No. 1 overall, more anxiety than excitement surrounds Rose's future. Realistically, when a 25-year-old player whose game depends on explosiveness undergoes two knee surgeries in 19 months, perhaps the best isn't yet to come.

Without saying so, Bulls officials must fear this. The re-tear rate for repaired meniscuses is 25 percent, according to one surgical expert. So in planning for 2014-15 and beyond, the Bulls can assume nothing about an injury-prone player who earned nearly $41 million for playing only 50 games the three previous seasons. They need to explore every option, from trading Luol Deng before his contract expires to using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer next summer to clear salary-cap space for a run at potential free agent Carmelo Anthony. They must entertain reconstructing a Bulls team that includes Rose but isn't necessarily built around him, a chore ironically complicated most by his whopping contract.

They must consider forming a different core and embracing a new normal in the Bulls organization where the only constant in the coming months should be change.

That uncomfortable reality hung over the Bulls as they slipped back into their routine Monday night against the Jazz. Coach Tom Thibodeau can hunker down and insist the Bulls have more than enough to win like he did constantly last season — except this isn't last season. Nate Robinson is gone and took his shot-making ability with him to Denver, and the Bulls find a limited roster much less prepared for life without D-Rose than a year ago when they anticipated it. Kirk Hinrich will take Rose's place, but how long before Hinrich's annual injury list mounts?

Chemistry always has been a trademark of a Thibodeau team known for the way it defends, shares the ball and rebounds. But the fourth year of any NBA head coach's tenure often represents the time veterans start tuning him out. So you wonder how long before the inconsistency likely to accompany Rose's absence makes Thibodeau intolerable to players — or executives — who know Rose isn't walking through that door.

The good news for the Bulls is that, in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed last season with a 38-44 record. That also could be interpreted as the bad news. Clawing into the playoffs without Rose would reflect a prideful team Thibodeau refused to let find excuses. Missing the playoffs would put the Bulls into the NBA draft lottery and create the slim hope of taking Simeon product Jabari Parker, if the Duke freshman goes pro after one season, or another franchise-changing prospect.

Not that you will hear the T word — Tanking — anywhere near Thibodeau or the Bulls except on sports-talk radio.

"I know from last year, this team and coaching staff will continue to make our fans proud,'' Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "Despite Derrick's absence, this is still a good team.''

Cruelly, Chicago will find out during a winter likely to feel a little colder now. But the only thing we really know is that the Bulls will be a different team whenever Rose returns — and so will expectations for the guy who no longer can be counted on to be their franchise player.

DHaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

 
Talk about it
Join other sports fans on our Ravens message board SUBSCRIBE TO THIS FEED

PHOTO GALLERIES

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Google Plus
  • RSS Feeds
  • Mobile Alerts and Apps

RAVENS & FOOTBALL VIDEOS

Welcome to The Baltimore Sun's Ravens game story database. Use the search prompts below for access to Baltimore Sun stories for every game in Ravens history.