Bulls' Rose woes more than latest injury

Team must start rebuilding with increasingly brittle star rather than around him

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Nobody with the Bulls can say whether Derrick Rose will miss closer to one month or six months with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. Yet Chicago embraced that Saturday as the good news.

Rose returned home from the West Coast to undergo surgery that will determine the severity of his injury and length of the layoff. But most Bulls fans I heard from via email and Twitter reacted with more relief than concern because, hey, it wasn't another torn ACL.

So many people expected the worst that they accepted the woebegone.

Forgive me if I lack enthusiasm at the announcement the Bulls franchise player will be out only "indefinitely.'' Nothing personal Marquis Teague. I see little positive about Rose sustaining yet another leg injury that knocks him out of action for any extended period of time, no matter how major or minor. This time the range happens to be between one and six months, according to medical sources familiar with meniscus tears. What about next time? The way Rose's career is going, rest assured there will be a next time.

Yes, I realize it could have been devastating news that would have been interpreted instantly as career-altering for Rose. But isn't an increasingly injury prone star player injuring his good knee alarming too? It continues a troubling trend.

In the 11 games since Rose returned from his 18-month layoff after left knee surgery, he encountered expected soreness in his left knee and unexpected hamstring and turf toe problems. In the lockout-shortened season before tearing his ACL on April 28, 2012, Rose missed games because of four separate injuries. Anybody else starting to think this is a 25-year-old going on 40?

Somewhere, Nate Robinson feels more missed than ever.

The Bulls need to wake up Sunday morning prepared as if Rose will miss the rest of the season — a good chance if he takes the surgical route many expect. Bulls executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman can say whatever they want publicly about Rose's vague timetable and the organization's commitment to his health and mean every earnest word. But privately both men have to begin plotting a Plan B that takes into consideration the way Rose's body continues to break down.

They have to explore the trade market for Luol Deng, who's on the last year of his contract, and prepare coach Tom Thibodeau for life without his favorite Bull. They have to put that plan to compete for an NBA title in 2014 that includes Nikola Mirotic and the second-star-to-be-named later back in a drawer. They have to start thinking about building a winner with Rose rather than around the point guard, a consideration that also must factor in Thibodeau's compatibility with a roster in flux.

As Rose's knees deteriorate, an era wobbles.

The reality is that surgery could usher in Phase III of Rose's career and all the Bulls have to show for it is an appearance in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. Whenever Rose returns, this year or next, perhaps he can regain All-Star form like everybody will say but beware the Bulls executive who risks his reputation on that possibility. Nobody can guarantee a player whose game lives off speed and explosion will offer the same threat after his second knee surgery. Looking at the roster in light of Rose's recent injury reveals a team closer to rebuilding than contending.

Suddenly, Rose is closer to being compared forever in his hometown to Gale Sayers than Michael Jordan, a guy who potentially leaves a city wondering what could-have-been rather than asking how-did-he-do-that? In the way injuries limited Sayers' greatness and shortened his Bears career, Rose seems headed down the same torturous path. We lucky enough to watch Rose are all lesser for the setbacks and real empathy comes for a player whose life revolves around the sport his health refuses to let him play.

If you don't believe basketball is everything to Rose, just watch the shoe commercials. He says so. Nothing about the new, lavish lifestyle of the kid from Englewood matters as much, his voice tells us. His son, P.J. His family. His game. That's all D-Rose is, according to his carefully crafted image. He eats, sleeps and breathes basketball and, sadly and suddenly, he will have to live without it for awhile. Again.

Try telling a player so defined by the game the MRI results could have been worse. For Rose and a franchise facing a familiar crisis, they were bad enough.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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