Even without Derrick Rose in the lineup, the Chicago Bulls will win more than 50 percent of their games this season. Not a lot more than 50 percent, but enough to be able to declare themselves winners.
But based on early results, every game is going to be a significant struggle. The wins will be hard-fought and determined more by defense than by offense. The losses will hurt because they won't ever lose by much, and we will all know they could have won if only Rose was around.
The last two home games before the circus trip were perfect examples of what the season will be like, and there was little joy to be had in either contest. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were playing without Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio, the Bulls were challenged until the end, when they pulled out an anticipated home victory. Ho-hum.
Two nights later, against a Boston Celtics team that still harbors title dreams, the Bulls allowed themselves to be scored on at will for three quarters. But because Thibodeau is coach, they will never be truly out of a game. They fought back, to within two, and had one solid chance to tie the game taken away by an offensive foul call against rookie Marquis Teague. It would have been a heroic and thrilling comeback, except it didn't materialize. The Bulls without Rose simply don't have the buzzer-beating or strong-willed player that can complete a comeback win or dominate a game early so the Bulls don't need last-second thrills.
Because of this, there will be no long winning streaks, and no long losing streaks. The Bulls could very easily just make plans to go win-lose, win-lose, all the way through the rest of the regular season (until Rose returns, if he does at all). There will be no tension, no hyperbole, no hype at all. There will be nothing TO hype.
You do have permission to get excited about the play of Joakim Noah, who has really stepped up offensively. He's playing for an All-Star bid, averaging 15.3 points, 9.4 boards and more than three assists per game.
Deng will win Workman of the Year (an award they are going to have to create for him), Boozer will frustrate with inconsistency, Rip Hamilton will make you beg him to shoot more, and Kirk Hinrich will do his best Jerry Sloan impression all over again. Taj Gibson will make you wonder for yet another season why he is not starting, and Nate Robinson will show you that he is perhaps better than C.J. Watson and simply not Derrick Rose.
It's going to be a long and strange season. Fans will neither be able to be terribly excited nor terribly disappointed. It will be a season without any meat to sink your teeth into.
So prepare to watch the Bulls tread water, staying afloat without getting anywhere. And hope Derrick Rose returns sooner rather than not at all this season.
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.