When it comes to Derrick Rose, any day of positives now seem like a day of cautious optimism. For Chicago Bulls fans, last season proved to be the kind of emotional roller coaster that one ties with the eternal struggle of being stuck in traffic on your way to an important event. No matter if it’s your daughter’s dance recital, a date, or your live fantasy draft, the one certainty is the peaks and troughs in your emotions. With every report of successful rehab to peak one effectively, there came the talk of Rose’s lack of confidence on the knee. With every video clip of Rose dunking off of his surgically repaired ACL laden knee, there came the news about being unsure of a playoff return. If stress leads to hair loss like we saw with Homer Simpson and his struggle with a growing family in The Simpsons, then one would have expected to use Google street view in Chicago and see their fair share of Tom Thibodeau lookalike average Joes walking in its streets.
Coming into this season, the uncertainty that hovered around Rose was one that the basketball world long desired to rid itself of. As fans, we missed the highlights and grew tired of blankly staring at the poster of Rose’s facial on Goran Dragic that hung on our wall. As a league, something truly felt like it was missing with the season-long absence of Rose, something similar to going on a road trip where all but one of your closest friends decides to tag along. Alas, with the superb stretch of preseason games against the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks, the question no longer surrounds the return of Rose, but instead on how far he can propel himself and his Bulls teammates this upcoming season.
In his 2010-11 NBA MVP campaign, Rose led the Bulls to a 62-20 record, tops in the Eastern Conference, while putting up the best statistical season of his career, averaging 25 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds a game. In the playoffs that season, Rose, along with key contributors Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, bowed out in the Eastern Conference final series against the Miami Heat that was much closer than the 4-1 result would lead one to believe. Entering this season, the key cogs that surrounded Rose are right where he left them. Although questions surrounding the depth of the team, especially one with such an extensive injury history among its starting unit, will follow the Bulls throughout the season, one has to wonder if that could secretly prove to be a blessing in disguise as well.
In the 2011-12 season, the Boston Celtics came within one game of defeating the Heat in the Eastern Conference final before the now all-too-common emergence of LeBron James in pivotal games took control of that series. Similar to the Bulls, the Celtics were notoriously top heavy in regards to talent as after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Brandon Bass and Michael Pietrus, regular minutes weren’t a commonality among its remaining players. This season, when the games become not one of 82, but instead one towards the best of seven, you can be sure that there won’t be many minutes from Bulls players not named Rose, Noah, Boozer, Butler, Deng, Gibson and Dunleavy. If the Celtics were able to achieve the inconceivable and ride a retirement home to the brink of the NBA Finals against a healthy Heat, where could the Bulls ride their young squad against a now deteriorating one?
In regards to Rose, although the ACL tear was a dramatic blow to the short term success of the Bulls and Rose, the long term repercussions are ones that I believe will reveal the injury to be a blessing in disguise. Before the injury, Rose had significantly improved a jump shot that had once been on par with that of Ricky Rubio in terms of consistency, something that a year away from the court with only the ball to dribble and the jump shot muscle memory to practice could only have helped. With new-found health, anything but the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference will be seen as a failure for a team that was already right in the thick of things without the services of one of the premier players in the NBA. If that is achieved, the NBA’s biggest storyline will undoubtedly push Rose right into the MVP trophy presentation.
In short, it’s going to be an exciting season in Chicago.