LOS ANGELES -- Derrick Rose's latest knee injury doesn't just bring a close to the 25-year-old superstar's season -- it also marks the end of the championship window for this current group of Chicago Bulls players.
The Bulls were built to win this season with a healthy Rose -- the superstar who became the youngest MVP in NBA history just a few short years ago. They were not built to withstand a huge portion of the year without him, as was the case last season. The Bulls' bench is not as deep as it has been in years past, or even as deep as it was a year ago. Because of salary-cap considerations, and because of betting on Rose to stay on the floor, the Bulls decided to let popular playmaker Nate Robinson walk. Given that the organization already had locked up veteran Kirk Hinrich and second-year man Marquis Teague, Robinson was expendable. The Bulls also decided not to re-sign swingman Marco Belinelli in favor of bringing in veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy Jr.
While both Robinson and Belinelli would be helpful at the present time for a team that is missing its star, the cold reality for the Bulls is that in the grand scheme of an NBA season, neither of those players is the type of difference-maker who would get the Bulls that much closer to a title.
The Bulls are built around Rose.
He remains the only superstar on this team and the only player who could consistently get his own shot. With his future status as a superstar now completely up in the air, general manager Gar Forman is left with some tough decisions ahead. First and foremost, he must recognize that this team, as currently constructed, isn't good enough. With that in mind, Forman would be wise to trade veteran Luol Deng and get whatever he can for him. The market for Deng won't be too strong given that the All-Star forward can walk at the end of the year. But for the Bulls, it shouldn't matter. The best-case scenario for them is to win a playoff series and then lose in the Eastern Conference semifinals as they did last season. Why keep Deng if that's the end game?
Forman must then go about trying once again to deal Carlos Boozer. The former All-Star does not figure into the Bulls' long-term plans and is still a candidate to be amnestied at the end of this season. Given what the Bulls know now about Rose, and the fact that they still wouldn't have enough to land a max free agent next summer, the odds become a little more likely that Boozer will make it through the end of this deal. Why would they pay a guy to leave if they couldn't make themselves significantly better?
As it did during the 2012 season, Rose's injury completely changes the course of the future for the Bulls. The difference now is that, unlike before, nobody is sure of Rose's future status. Even as Rose made his way back to the floor over the course of the past year and a half, the organization maintained the belief that Rose would return to being the superstar he had always been, the prevailing thought being that even if the Bulls didn't win a title this year they could continue building around Rose as the centerpiece of a championship caliber team.
Now, like before, everything has changed.