COMMENTARY | Talk about your premature celebration.
When word got out that Derrick Rose was accompanying the Chicago Bulls on their two-game trip to Orlando and Miami the first week of the new year, all sorts of rumors started about him being close to returning to action for the first time this season. Reporters who actually know what is going on were quick to state that Rose was on the trip for comraderie points more than anything, and that Rose is still not expected back before the end of February, if then.
However, his sighting came just one day after the Bulls were embarrassed on their home floor by the Charlotte Bobcats, who rarely embarrass anyone but themselves. So with the team's need for an uplifting experience tied with Rose's friendship trip with the Bulls, it's time to consider what the team will look like and be like when Rose comes back.
The schedule for January and February has enough winnable games that the Bulls should be able to stay above .500 until Rose's return. So let's say they will be among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference without Rose, which means they are headed for the playoffs once he gets back.
The biggest question is what will happen with the roster once Rose returns?
At present, Kirk Hinrich is the team's starting point guard as long as he remains healthy. Nate Robinson starts when Hinrich can't go. With Rose back, Hinrich will be pushed to the bench, where he can come off to spell either Rose or shooting guard Rip Hamilton depending on the whims of coach Tom Thibodeau.
(There is little thought that Hamilton would end up on the bench. Because of his age and wear on his body, it is not likely he will be asked to come in cold off the bench in many situations).
But when Rose needs a break in the game at the point guard position, will Thibodeau go with Hinrich (for defensive purposes) or Robinson (for scoring purposes)? That is the first question that comes up when Rose returns.
Question No. 2 is who spells Hamilton? Will it be Hinrich (for defensive purposes) or Marco Belinelli (for offensive purposes)? Belinelli was spectacular as a starter when Hamilton missed 12 games with his foot injury, and even led the team in scoring off the bench in Hamilton's first game back. Will Thibodeau want to kill that spark by pushing him to third string?
There is a feeling that Rose and Belinelli could thrive together. The Bulls have always needed someone who could create his own shot to take pressure off of Rose, and Belinelli has shown that ability. Belinelli also likes taking the ball to the basket when the opportunity presents itself, which could open Rose up for a dish if Belinelli is covered on his approach.
As long as everyone stays healthy, the interior will not change. Carlos Boozer won't get as many shots so his contributions will drop, but Joakim Noah has shown he loves rebounding Rose's misses, and Taj Gibson clearly enjoys playing with Rose and could have his disappointing numbers rise with Rose's return.
Another player who could thrive in an active offensive set with Rose back is backup small forward Jimmy Butler, who is young enough to keep up with Rose's offensive moves.
A bench of Butler, Gibson, Hinrich, Robinson and Belinelli (with Nzar Mohammed as a reluctant fill-in for Noah when necessary) could provide the Bulls with the same kind of lift the Bench Mob of Gibson, Butler, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver did last season. Thibodeau's job gets tougher because he will have more choices, although his reward should be greater with more victories.
All of this depends on everyone staying healthy until Rose himself is completely healthy.
For now, Bulls fans are in countdown mode waiting for Rose's return, although no one knows exactly what number of days is on the clock.
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.