CHICAGO (MCT) — Facing the unknown for the first time in his basketball life, the best Bulls player of his generation grasped for perspective that a serious injury threatening the arc of a legendary career forced him to find.
"I believe there are some things that are just meant to be," the Bulls' MVP said. "Maybe in the long run, this will be good for the team because they will learn how to play without me. Something good has got to come out of this. I just can't see it right now."
Loss of vision often is the first symptom of a broken heart.
This was Michael Jordan after breaking his left foot three games into the 1985-86 season. Aptly, the words that came out of Jordan's mouth 27 years ago apply to what Derrick Rose might be thinking in the aftermath of Saturday's knee surgery.
Uncertainty can be the most painful part of post-op.
Nobody can tell Rose why he tore his ACL or what happens next. Doctors predicted Rose will return in as few as eight months or as many as 12, and the only thing surprising about Tuesday's prognosis was that so many people reacted with surprise. From the day Rose's knee buckled April 28, those close to the Bulls consistently maintained a similar, standard range of recovery.
The more relevant timetable in relation to Rose's return was the one nobody dared mention at Rush University Medical Center. Sure, Rose might play again in eight to 12 months but, because of NBA realities, his injury made three to five years a new, reasonable estimation when the Bulls legitimately will challenge again for a championship.
Suddenly the organizational growth chart resembles what it did when Rose was a rookie in 2008: Show moxie in the playoffs for a couple of seasons and gradually complement the roster with players who stamp the Bulls as contenders. Adjust your expectations accordingly, Chicago.
My sense is Bulls executives John Paxson and Gar Forman already have, anticipating decisions about the future dictated by the past few weeks. They aren't rebuilding as much as revising.
The Bulls still can make the postseason in 2012-13, and anybody who questions that isn't paying attention to the World Cup rugby tournament disguised as the NBA playoffs.
By the time Rose returns around the All-Star break, the Bulls likely will be hovering near .500 thanks to a respectable veteran core. What experienced point guard the Bulls sign on the cheap this summer _ is hometown discount part of Kirk Hinrich's vocabulary? _ remains to be seen but, for my money, C.J. Watson played his way out of town during the playoffs. The team options on subs Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer figure to be too pricey to pick up for a club approaching salary-cap hell.
Who among the Bulls currently under contract will be on the roster the next time they make the conference finals? Joakim Noah and Luol Deng? Noah and Taj Gibson? Deng and Gibson? None of the above?
I doubt the next championship run includes Carlos Boozer, whose points and rebounds the Bulls will need until Rose regains All-Star form circa 2014.In that way Boozer becomes a 21st century Orlando Woolridge, the stat-sheet stuffer who averaged 20.7 points for the Bulls when Jordan missed 64 games with a fractured navicular tarsal bone in 1985-86.
Beginning his second season, Jordan was less accomplished but only 318 days younger than Rose at the time of their respective injuries. Apropos of nothing, interestingly the Bulls filled Jordan's spot on the roster by signing Ron Brewer Sr. _ whose son Ronnie's future potentially is affected by Rose's availability.
The Bulls went 24-43 without Jordan and, in his return March 15, 1986, against the Bucks, he answered many questions with an emphatic dunk over 7-foot-3 center Randy Breuer. Jordan answered more against the Celtics with a historic 63-point playoff performance that made believers out of those wondering whether they would see the same dynamic player post-injury.
Legitimate doubts existed everywhere but inside Jordan's head, based on his response when asked during rehabilitation if he feared returning unable to dominate as he once did.
"Don't even think like that," Jordan snapped, according to Tribune archives. "I try to knock those thoughts out of my mind. I have to be the same. I just have to."
Three seasons later, the same Jordan led a very different Bulls roster into the conference finals. Two seasons after that, in June 1991, Jordan's broken foot was a memory and the Larry O'Brien trophy a reality.
Like Jordan at his lowest point, perhaps Rose can't see it now. But the basketball air can be rarefied again. First, just breathe.