Originally posted on The I in Team  |  Last updated 4/30/12

I’ve come to grips with the immediate consequences of Derrick Rose’s injury. A few good laughs and a Mad Men marathon, helped take my mind off of things. I still have trouble coming to terms with the longer reaching ramifications, which I want to talk out here.

And I realize talking about pain and hurt (as a fan) is trivial compared to what Rose is going through both physically and emotionally, but there is something to be said considering the amount of emotional investment many fans (myself definitely included) put into sports.

My heart stopped. I knew immediately Derrick was in deep trouble. He seemed to hang in the air for minutes rather than mere split seconds. As soon as  looked to dump off the ball, you could tell something was wrong. Like a wounded bird, his upward trajectory didn’t contain its natural grace. Rather than effortlessly float along side the defender, Rose was losing his battle with gravity. He came crashing down back down to earth, with a leg clearly unable to support his weight. He hobbled, and fell to the ground, broken. The rest of the game didn’t matter. Heck, the rest of the series doesn’t really matter. Derrick Rose had torn his ACL.

I could have handled the Bulls not winning the title this year. It was no fait accompli that they would. The Bulls put themselves in prime position to bring home a title, but there were a handful of strong teams in their way. The Bulls could have lost to the Spurs, the Thunder, or even the ( loathed) Heat and I would have been able to come to terms with it. Sure, I probably would have sulked for a day or three, but within a single season, things don’t always work out; I could have chalked it up to lack of cohesion or simply running into a better team, and that, ultimately, would have been fine. Losing a shot at a title this way, though, with Derrick tearing his ACL, is something altogether different to deal with.

It is ultimately rare that a team is of championship caliber. Sure, there are franchises (ahem, Lakers, ahem) that have a knack for reloading throughout their existence, but on a wider scale, it’s tough to put together a team that has a legitimate chance to win it all. Just take a look at history. Only 18 teams have ever lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Meaning 12 have never won it all; 6 of the 12 that haven’t  even been to the finals. That may not seem like much, but that’s only because it doesn’t underscore the long droughts seen by certain franchises. Take the Warriors for example; they last won a title in ’75, but haven’t made an appearance in the finals since, covering a span of 37 years (and counting). The Bullets/Wizards  made it to the final in ’79, and have been stuck in mediocrity since. Those aren’t small market teams we’re talking about. They aren’t Milwaukee (last in the finals in ’74). They should, in theory have been able to use some of their financial muscle to make it back to the finals since the 70′s, but unfortunately that’s not how it works.

Basketball, more than any sport can be affected by one transcendent player. You can have a Lebron James dragging a pitiful Cavaliers’ squad to the finals. Without that player, it’s tough to make it. Sure, there are squads in the past that have pulled it off with a mere collection of very good to great players, but it’s not the typical championship blueprint. Derrick Rose is one of those transcendent type players. Whatever his flaws may be (average jump shot, size, etc), he is truly a once in a generation talent. He was the league’s youngest ever MVP. He helped lead the Bulls to back-to-back seasons with the best record. He showed an unnerving ability to soar through the air, bounce off larger bodies and still make buckets. He has improved every single year he’s been in the league, and shown an almost manic desire to continue improving. He seemed destined for greatness, even beyond what he’s already accomplished. Collectively, Chicago couldn’t help but imagine the best of possibilities for the remainder of his career, but that’s all in limbo now. And it hurts terribly.

The reason why it stings so much is that Rose’s injury has thrust upon fans not just the pain of losing a shot at the title this year, but it has now cast doubt on the possibility of any finals trips in the near future. I hate to say it, but there’s a non-zero probability that Rose’s knee is to the Bulls what Walton’s feet were to the Blazers. That wouldn’t mean that the Bulls would necessarily have to wait 23 years to recover, but it would mean that their window with Rose closed.

There was only a 1.7% chance that the Bulls would be in position to draft Derrick Rose. Whether it was divine intervention or simply Stern-ian meddling, the ping pong balls bounced our way. That 1.7% chance represented the Bulls one shot at getting the type of transcendent player that could lead them to a title. Had the Bulls not gotten lucky, they would have been mired in mediocrity. Now, the only percentage I can think of now, is what level Rose can come back to as compared to his pre-injury self? Will he be 90% as good? Will his explosion desert him leaving him a mere 20% shell of his former self? Will the Bulls be unlucky and now find themselves mired that mediocrity that seemed destined to happen before striking gold in the lottery?

The worst case scenario is Rose loses his fastball. His game, as currently built, is predicated on his speed, strength and explosive athleticism (didn’t mean to go all Jay Bilas on you there). If that leaves him, he’ll be left with good court vision and an average jump shot. He could evolve as a player, he certainly has the work ethic, but will Rose 2.0 be worth his contract? I hate to even bring it up, but with the way the salary cap works these days, the Bulls absolutely need Rose to return to his current level if they have any hope of winning a title during his career.

The one silver lining I can find in this is that if anyone can come back from a torn ACL, it’s Rose. As I mentioned, his desire to win and get better, is nearly unparalleled in the league. I know he’ll work hard to recover and hopefully the only thing truly lost is a shot at the 2012 title. Heck, if Baron Davis and his belly can come back (he tore his ACL in college), I feel like Rose can too. Hopefully some day soon he too will be dunking on Andrei Kirilenko and we’ll hear the familiar refrain, “Too big, too fast, too strong, too good!”

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