Derrick Rose was crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player just a short 16 months ago and the Bulls were leading candidates for an NBA championship. After Rose tore his ACL in the opening round of last season’s playoffs, however, the Bulls opened training with plenty of questions heading into the 2012-2013 campaign; mainly, when will Rose return to action ? It’s something the former MVP does not even have an answer for, as he nor anyone else could provide a date of a potential return. Such is the basis for many who have written the Bulls off altogether this season. For the team, while their star is out, the goals remain the same.
“I think about certain situations,” says Rose, ‘If I come back early, will we have a great chance on winning it?’ But without me or with me, our goals are going to stay the same, and that’s to win a championship.” Echoing Rose’s sentiments, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who just signed a four-year extension with the franchise says, “The important thing for our team – whether it’s praise or criticism – is not to listen to the outside voices. The only thing that matters is what we think. I think the important thing for us to put forth our best effort each and every day so we can build. Every year you start from a different place. You have to start all over again this year.”
The Bulls have developed a reputation as one of the blue-collar, hardest working squads in the League. Nothing will change about that. Playoffs aren’t out of the question, but playoff wins could be. Far be it for anyone to tell the team otherwise though. “We work hard. We’ve got a lot of new guys so we all have to get on the same page, but we put in work everyday,” says one-time All-Star forward Luol Deng. “We practice hard, prepare hard and we know how to win games. In the past two years we’ve proven that. We’ve got the same core back, been through a lot together and I think we understand how to win games together. It’s just another year with a new challenge. Not one individual is gonna fill in Derrick’s shoes, but I think collectively we understand the situation we’re in and we all know we need each other to get better. We’re looking forward to it and looking forward to going to work. ”
In particular Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Teague and Nate Robinson will be the ones asked to fill in for Rose by committee. For Hinrich, this is his second stint with the Bulls. His time there from 2003-2010 was enough to make Rose reach out to Hinrich himself, admitting it was the first time he personally recruited anyone to join him in Chicago.
Teague ran point for the National Championship Kentucky Wildcats last year, and energy man Robinson has made his rounds in the League, best known as the three-time slam dunk champ. “You can’t pass up an opportunity like this,” says Robinson. “I just bring energy. He’s taking care of his business, so as a team we have to hold down the fort.”
How long can they hold down the fort is another looming question. The Bulls were without Rose for much of last year, but there was sense of hope. Now, while there’s plenty of reason for pessimism, the Bulls are remaining optimistic. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “I think mentally I’ve gotten stronger,” Rose says “I’ve been doing the same everyday for four months straight. I know God has a plan and he does things for a reason. Hopefully the reason is for me to get stronger. I can’t wait to get back on the court to see what I’m gonna do. I don’t know how I’m gonna play, I don’t know what’s gonna be new about my game. I just know it’s gonna be exciting for everyone to see. I’m gonna be a better player but who knows in what area. My legs have never been this strong before. My upper body has never been this strong before. My core has never been this strong before. I’m just gonna see how far this takes me.” He continues, “I wish I could be in training camp right now but I can’t. That’s why I said I’m working on my patience. Knowing that I have to prove to them I’m ready to come back. It’s not just when I’m ready. I have to prove to the doctors and trainers that I’m ready to go out there and work hard and feel alright. Right now, I’m not at that stage. I didn’t start cutting yet. I’m about two weeks away from that. Right now cutting is the hardest thing in the world. I’m scared of it. When I get that out of my system, I think I’ll be pretty close. Hopefully it won’t take the whole year.”
Harder, better, faster, stronger? For many, it’s a daunting idea on the heels of an ACL injury. But Rose has moved with a chip on his shoulder since day one. It’s nothing but the latest challenge to conquer. “There’s haters and doubters out there. I gotta prove ’em wrong.”