HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Derrick Rose grimaced, the Chicago Bulls winced, the NBA as a whole sagged and the Eastern Conference postseason projections shifted considerably.
Too soon to think of Rose’s second serious knee injury in 19 months strictly in competitive basketball terms? Maybe for Rose, the Bulls and the fans who love them. Maybe for folks who don’t define sports as a zero-sum game in which one team wins and everyone else loses. Certainly for lovers of the game and the controlled chaos that Rose, at his best across his first four NBA seasons and at times through his return last month and this, brought to the court.
But one team’s loss is another team’s gain. And given the Groundhog Day elements of yet another knee issue – a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, as opposed to the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left in April 2012 – the tactics and coping mechanisms people deployed to deal with Rose’s first absence are fresh and handy enough to help with the second.
Rose’s ACL repair, originally projected as a process requiring eight to 12 months, sidelined him through the 2012-13 season side of caution. This latest injury offers a surgical choice: reattaching the torn tissue that cushions the knee or removing it (and making do with less for the rest of his career).
The former is a more thorough fix, the latter quicker. Noted sports trainer Tim Grover, who has worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and others, provided a glimpse of the different approaches on Twitter shortly after the results of Rose’s MRI exam were released by the Bulls Saturday afternoon:
Couple ways to deal with a meniscus tear. Take it out, you return faster but can shorten your career. Reattach it, miss maybe 4-6 months.
— Tim S. Grover (@ATTACKATHLETICS) November 23, 2013
In April, Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in the playoffs, had it reattached and only returned to the Thunder’s lineup on Nov. 3. Minnesota forward Chase Budinger had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee early last season, missed four months and returned to play 17 games down the stretch. But Budinger re-injured the same knee this summer and, this time, had the damaged portion of cartilage removed rather than repaired. He has yet to suit up for the Timberwolves this season.
The ramifications for all constituencies, assuming Rose is done for most or all of the season, are immense. Here is a look at some of them:
What It Means For Rose
Psychologically, only Rose knows at the moment how this setback has and will continue to hit him. The youngest player in NBA history to be named Most Valuable Player when he won it in 2011, Rose already has missed 116 of Chicago’s 405 regular-season games since he was drafted in 2008. It will be 187 of 476 if he doesn’t return until next October.
Physically, Rose faces a darned-if-he-does, darned-if-he-doesn’t dilemma. His marvelous gifts – his explosiveness, cutting ability and lift – have separated him from most of his peers and laid the foundation for his specialness. But they also appear to be enemies to his own body. When Rose came up lame in Portland Friday, he again did it without contact, the tear generated by his velocity, torque and angles.
So, if Rose comes back with skills approximating those he had before, he might be at risk of hurting himself again. And if he doesn’t, he’ll need to adapt and improvise, like a fastball thrower learning to be a control pitcher. Would Rose still be MVP timber, or even an All-Star, if he has to play below the rim — relying more on a jump shot and his wiles?
Let’s be clear, too: That wouldn’t even qualify as the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario would be strewn with names such as Brandon Roy, Penny Hardaway, Greg Oden and others in NBA history whose careers were curtailed by chronic injuries.
What It Means For The Bulls
Ugh. Picture your remote control conking out just as you flipped mistakenly to C-Span. That’s what Rose’s team and its fans would face if 2013-14 plays out like a rerun of 2012-13. One season of overachieving and getting by on effort and pluck is more than enough. Doing it again under grinding coach Tom Thibodeau might put hair on their chests once more, but it doesn’t make for the most entertaining games. Especially since Nate Robinson already is otherwise occupied.
Finding reinforcements on the fly could be tough. At least with Rose’s ACL injury, the Bulls had a whole offseason to prep for Plan B. Not so now. And even with a medical exception, the Bulls’ salary-cap constraints and the dearth of talent on the street could limit what sort of cavalry rides over the hill.
Then there’s the future: Does Chicago push toward the playoffs regardless or does it assess its chances without Rose and join those teams already more focused on the 2014 Draft than the current season? And if it’s the latter, how might that affect decisions on forwards Luol Deng, who is heading toward free agency (if he isn’t dealt by the February trading deadline), and Carlos Boozer, still an amnesty candidate?
What It Means For The Field
Removing a top contender from an already muddy East standings surely would dilute the drama and suspense of someone crashing the conference finals. Brooklyn might work its way out of its early funk, but with the Bulls banging around for the next five months, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Miami and Indiana going at it again through Memorial Day weekend.
Chicago looked a little thin (in terms of depth) a little short (in terms of length) and a little erratic (in terms of perimeter shooting) to be anyone’s Finals favorite. But thinning the herd this way, while shifting the workload to Rose’s remaining teammates, was nothing anyone wanted to see.
Least of all in Chicagoland.