Everything has gone downhill for the Bulls since Derrick Rose’s fateful knee injury in last season’s playoffs. With 1:22 left in Game 1 of last season’s opening-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 28, Derrick Rose made a routine drive to the hoop. Looking to pass in mid-air, his left knee gave out, and Rose crumbled to the ground. The United Center crowd watched in stunned silence as Rose lay for several minutes, wincing in severe pain.
Fans feared the worst, and any hopes of Rose a making swift recovery–not to mention the chance of winning the NBA Finals–had quickly vanished. The results of Rose’s MRI confirmed everybody’s worst fears after the game, as the team announced that Rose had torn his left ACL and would miss the remainder of the playoffs and most, if not all, of the 2012-13 season.
The devastating turn of events completely altered the complexion of the series, and the top-seeded Bulls’ 103-91 victory suddenly became meaningless. Taking full advantage of the former MVP’s absence, Philadelphia seized the momentum and became just the third No. 8 seed to win a best-of-seven first round series against a No. 1 seed, ultimately winning in six games.
Rose had surgery two days following the Bulls’ season-ending 79-78 loss in Game 6. While all signs indicate that the surgery was successful and the recovery process has gone as expected, Rose still has not played this season. The Bulls have taken an expected dip without Rose and with the regular season entering its homestretch they now appear to be running out of gas. Injuries to Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Richard Hamilton have taken their toll.
Most analysts expected the Bulls, normally a top-tier team, to take a dip this season, and at 38-31 with 13 games left, they sit four games ahead of eighth-place Milwaukee. Luckily for the Bulls, Philadelphia trails the Bucks by seven games for the last playoff spot in the East, meaning that the Bulls are a virtual lock for the postseason.
However, considering that the Miami Heat have clearly emerged as the NBA’s best team through their historic win streak, rushing Rose back would not make sense at this point. Entering the season, it was unrealistic to expect the Bulls to challenge the Heat anyway, considering that only two seasons ago the Heat defeated the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals with both teams at full strength.
While the Heat are considerably better now–not to mention they won the NBA Finals last season–the Bulls have struggled with injuries ever since. It’s unfortunate, but it would be wise for the front office to play it safe and “wait ’til next year.”
Rose was cleared to play by doctors just a couple weeks ago, however, he has repeatedly said that he’s not yet 100 percent mentally ready. He has told the team that he will not make his long-awaited return to the lineup until he can confidently dunk off his left foot. With each passing game Rose has sit out, a return to action this season appears more and more unlikely.
No one can really blame him for that, especially since he would only be putting himself at risk for further injury–one that could potentially alter his career. The reality is, if Rose does come back and re-injuries himself, fans will blame him for coming back too early. But even if he does avoid injury, there is not enough time left in the season for him to regain his MVP form. There is only so much that full-speed repetitions can do in practice time; playing in a real game is a completely different animal.
The biggest focus for the Bulls’ medical and training staff all season has been the health of Rose’s left knee. It will surely be a hot topic going forward, but preserving it for the future should be the highest priority for the front office. Suddenly shifting gears and trying to win now would be detrimental to Chicago’s biggest superstar since Michael Jordan.