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Bulls Mon Apr 30 2012
"It's not a death sentence for him, it's not a death sentence for our team."
Those are the words of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau less than 24 hours after learning that reigning MVP Derrick Rose would miss the remainder of the postseason (Olympics, and the start of next season) with a torn ACL.
He's absolutely right about Rose. There's little doubt in anyone's mind that he'll make a speedy recovery and come back next season stronger than ever. In fact, the extended immobility may be a blessing in disguise.
By being unable to play in the Olympics, Rose will get time to fully recover from every single back and lower body injury he suffered during the lockout shortened season. After getting little time to rest last summer during his MVP tour, he'll get sufficient time to prepare his body for the beating he'll take in the years to come.
But in a sport where the importance of a single player with the rare skill set Rose possesses is undeniable, in a league dominated by its stars, in a playoffs where you need to have confidence in that singular player to take the big shot, it's hard to believe the second half of Thibs' statement.
Sure, the Bulls should still be able to beat the 16th best team in the NBA. But could they beat the Celtics (or even the Hawks) in the conference semis? Could they win four games against a focused Heat team in the East finals?
In Rose's absence, CJ Watson will once again assume the starting role. While he's been incredibly effective and efficient in his role with the immortal 'Bench Mob,' he's struggled as a starter this season, averaging 11.2 points on an abysmal 35% shooting to go along with just 4.6 assists. A significant drop-off from the numbers Rose puts up nightly, despite the 18-9 record amassed without him.
John Lucas III and Mike James will see significant minutes in backup duty, and as much as everyone loves Lucas' speed and confidence with his small stature, he can easily shoot the team out of a game in a hurry. As for James, his numbers have been solid when he plays, but there's a reason he was wallowing in the D-League earlier this season. A tuned up Heat defense could spell disaster for these two.
The scoring load will fall mostly to Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer in the starting group, along with Lucas and Kyle Korver on the second unit - but in reality it's going to be a rotation of hot hands and a tighter defense that will lead the Bulls to (closer) victories during the next few weeks.
The biggest question might be who takes the shot in a close or tie game with the clock near triple zeroes? Will it be Boozer in the post? Hamilton? Korver? Lucas (gulp)??? That'll be a question that can only be answered when the situation presents itself.
What makes the injury tough to swallow (ignoring the obvious "should he have been in?" question) is that Rose had a near triple-double, with the team cruising by 20, in a game where he shot poorly, and wasn't playing anywhere near his peak. Hamilton looked like his 2005 self, Noah was active in the paint, and the bench was suffocating defensively. That team could've contended for ring number seven.
Thibodeau's job is to be the eternal optimist; to prepare his team to win every game on the schedule. I'm more of a realist myself, and unless the Heat somehow get eliminated by the Knicks or Pacers (I'm doing a lot of assuming here. Indiana is down 1-0 against the Magic, and the Celtics are down 1-0 to the Hawks and will likely be without Rajon Rondo after his ongoing stupidity), the Bulls simply don't have the firepower to win a championship.
"[Rose's injury is] not going to change our goals at all. Our goals are going to stay the same."
If only the NBA worked that way, Thibs.