The sky isn’t quite falling in the Windy City just yet. But Chicago Bulls fans should still keep an eye on the looming storm clouds of the 2013-14 season when it comes to the health of their favorite superstar. In the Bulls’ third preseason game held in Rio de Janeiro, Derrick Rose was held out as a precautionary measure due to soreness in his left knee. Aside from the disappointed Brazilian basketball fans who were unable to see Rose play, is there more to worry about here?
It’s easy to prematurely get caught up in the “Derrick Rose may not play this season after all!” hysteria, but even a precautionary move like this one is sure to draw its fair share of attention. And rightfully so, since Rose is an electrifying athlete that the NBA dearly missed last season. He’s one of the top 10 players in the league when healthy and without him, only the Indiana Pacers (and maybe the Brooklyn Nets) pose any real threat to the Miami Heat’s hopes for a three-peat.
But the real reason for concern, even if you’re in the group that believes Rose will come back strong this season, is that this is a sort of “title or bust” year for the Chicago Bulls. Luol Deng‘s contract situation is already on shaky ground and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back for the 2014-15 season. Carlos Boozer‘s expensive contract could have the Bulls considering letting Taj Gibson take over. Deng and Boozer represent two essential pieces of Chicago’s current starting nucleus that make the Bulls such a tough matchup in the East. If the Bulls fall short this year, are they prepared to let Jimmy Butler and Gibson step into starting roles?
I’m not so convinced. Butler is a versatile and promising young prospect, but he’s nowhere near ready to take over for two-time All-Star Deng. Deng not only plays terrific perimeter defense, but he also provides much-needed scoring relief on the offensive end to help take the focus off of Rose. Butler’s not quite at that level yet. And though Gibson very well could replace Boozer one day, it makes more sense to bring him and his defensive intensity off the bench for this season. No matter what your opinions are on Deng vs. Butler or Boozer vs. Gibson, the fact remains that this could be the last year for Chicago to seriously contend for a championship.
Look at Chicago’s current roster. Think about what a healthy Derrick Rose could do with Deng, Butler, Boozer and Joakim Noah. Now imagine what Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell and Erik Murphy can provide off the bench. This Chicago Bulls team is about as good as it’s ever going to get, especially if the Bulls can’t find a way to keep Deng and Boozer. And if the 2013-14 season is Chicago’s “title or bust” year, that means it’s entirely contingent on Derrick Rose’s health.
Which brings us back to why this precautionary measure is such a big deal. Sure, it’s only one little preseason game in Brazil. And yes, the soreness in Rose’s leg did not require an MRI or any serious medical attention. NBA players deal with soreness all the time and as Gregg Popovich has shown us in the past, resting ailing starters can pay off in the long run.
But for the 2013-14 season, the Chicago Bulls’ chance at winning a title could hinge upon a “precautionary measure.” A sore left knee could very well mean the difference between having a chance against the beasts in the East and going home early. If we take the Bulls’ word at its face value (which we should), this precautionary move was nothing serious and probably a good decision. Rose still sounds healthy overall and should be able to make it through the season. But it’s also a little disconcerting that Rose is already sore after only two preseason games, during which he played a total of 43 minutes.
It’s an 82-game season, so blowing this piece of news out of proportion isn’t going to determine what the year holds for Rose and the Bulls. It’s a tad worrisome, but the sky isn’t falling in Chicago just yet. Don’t forget we’re talking about a guy who hasn’t played a game in more than a year. The story of the season for the Bulls will be Derrick Rose’s comeback attempt and only time will tell if this precautionary move was masking something more serious. But for the time being, Rose is still set to star in Chicago’s tough season opener in Miami and that should be good enough for everyone.