(MCT) — CHICAGO — Derrick Rose’s acknowledgment that he could miss the entire season has impact that will last through the All-Star break.
Though not a total surprise to Bulls management, which always has said Rose will return whenever he’s ready, general manager Gar Forman did say in a Jan. 7 interview “we’re optimistic that he’ll be back at some point this season.”
Rose, of course, still could be. But he also made it abundantly clear he might not. And when the Bulls gather Monday for a Berto Center practice in advance of Tuesday’s game in New Orleans, that sobering fact will underscore coach Tom Thibodeau’s declaration from late Wednesday after a loss in Boston.
“Our road isn’t going to get any easier,” Thibodeau said. “It’s going to get a lot tougher. Our mindset has to be we have to come with a greater fight to scratch out wins. We’re shorthanded. We’ve been down multiple starters for the entire season. If we exhale, relax, we’re in trouble.”
The Bulls limped into the break 4-6 in their last 10 games. They have endured injuries to all five starters, with Kirk Hinrich possibly returning from his infected right elbow against the Hornets on Tuesday.
They rank third in points allowed and opponents’ field-goal percentage and sixth in rebounding, consistent staples of Thibodeau-coached teams’ success. But they haven’t fared well in either area lately.
Without Rose they are languishing offensively, ranking 27th in points scored and 24th in field-goal percentage. The surprise might be that the Bulls are fifth in a downtrodden Eastern Conference, eight games above .500.
“We’re not playing very well right now,” said Joakim Noah, who will be in Houston for Sunday’s All-Star Game after undergoing more treatment on the plantar fasciitis in his right foot Thursday morning.
Perhaps the most telling comments from Rose were that his “leg still isn’t feeling right” and that his “game is always going to be driving.” The latter might suggest Rose won’t return as a limited minutes facilitator, lending even more credence to the possibility he sits the season and takes another offseason to come back as his previous explosive, dynamic offensive force.
In the news conference after Rose’s surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament in May, team physician Brian Cole, who performed the surgery, emphasized regaining that dynamic likely would stretch past the eight- to 12-month timeline the organization placed on Rose’s return.
“While he will hopefully be at a very high level in 12 months, it still may take slightly longer to be at his pre-injury level,” Cole said then. “That not uncommon in athletes of this caliber.
“Lots of athletes come back and play at a high level but not necessarily initially at the level they were pre-injury. Some get it at six months. Some get it at eight. It might take three years. It depends on the muscle physiology, confidence issues. All that plays a part.”
Cole also stressed at that news conference the benefits of playing in games.
“There’s actually a lot of therapeutic benefit to starting with early minutes when it’s safe,” Cole said then. “You have to play to play. All these muscle patterns have to kick in. You can do that off the court informally. But there’s a lot of benefit to playing. Whether he has to go 40 minutes, that’s a whole different story. Just getting out there and playing when he’s able, that’s when his exponential growth is going to come.”
Until that happens, what can the Bulls do? Staying healthy would help.
“Injuries have helped some guys play better (with time),” Luol Deng, another All-Star, told Bulls.com. “It also has affected us a little bit in terms of rhythm. The bottom line is we want to get healthy and play together more.”
Of course, that might not happen if the Bulls make a move by Thursday’s trade deadline. League sources said last week the Raptors were told the Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson deal for Andrea Bargnani and John Lucas III was available whenever they wanted it.
That move could take the Bulls below the luxury-tax threshold. Surely the Bulls would like to avoid paying tax if Rose doesn’t play this season.
There are 30 games remaining, time to ponder one final comment Cole made in May regarding Rose.
“Statistically, he should be that (previous) player and then some,” Cole said. “That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed.”