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Everything had aligned so perfectly for Derrick Rose, the minuscule odds of the Chicago Bulls winning the draft lottery transforming the son of the city's South Side into a franchise savior. He was the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history, on his way to a statue someday near No. 23 on the steps of the United Center.
He has come home chasing championships for the Bulls, chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan, and yet slowly, surely Rose is beginning to resemble a different Chicago sporting icon: Gale Sayers.
Rose could turn out to be the superstar whose name leaves everyone nodding and wondering: What could've been? An immortal career could turn into something simply very good – or something far worse.
For Rose, it's another knee injury, another surgery, perhaps another lost season. After an arduous year and a half to return from an ACL tear in his left knee, Rose couldn't make it a month into the regular season.
This time, it is his right knee, a torn meniscus and a sport wondering whether the best of Derrick Rose has come and gone. There are different surgical procedures available to Rose, but there could be long-term consequences for the short-term solution of snipping his meniscus. A full repair could mean six months until he's back on the court.
Whatever choice Rose makes now, make no mistake: The uncertainty surrounding this franchise's combustible mix of management, coach and players threatens to further destabilize now.
Several players, including Rose, have fully lined up with coach Tom Thibodeau in his never-ending battle with the front office. Rose and Luol Deng carry resentments with management, too. Thibodeau doesn't want to lose Deng to free agency, but management seems determined to choose the younger Jimmy Butler's contract extension over Deng for the future.
Thibodeau is in the second season of a four-year contract extension, but those close to him and the Bulls wonder: Is this a partnership doomed to perish sooner than later? With Rose and a championship contender, there was reason for Thibodeau to push through a most toxic environment. Now? Rose returns to perpetual rehab, Deng plays out his deal, and Thibodeau and his nemesis, general manager Gar Forman, could come to a crossroads sooner than later.
Everything revolves around Rose, everything with these Bulls. Across these 11 games in his comeback, he was far from his old self. His left knee was strong again – stronger and more explosive than it had ever been, he insisted – but his timing, his shot, his presence resembled little of his superstar yesterday. There was time to grow back into it this season, time to be Derrick Rose again, and now it is slipping away again.
In the beginning, Rose had come to these Bulls so much of that old Chicago Bear, Gale Sayers. From the sharp-cuts and change of direction to the bursts of blinding speed to the proud, private and driven disposition, Rose was far more Sayers than Jordan. Now, it's the knees, too; the surgeries; the fear a superstar who'd one day have his own statue could simply be a bright light streaking across the sky. The son out of Chicago's south side, the savior, gets his knees cut into again, another scar for Rose, for the franchise, for the city.
From that draft lottery against those long, long odds that Derrick Rose could ever be a Bull, it all seemed too good to be true.