What a welcome to NBA coaching for Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg: The calendar hasn’t yet flipped to October, and the first-year coach has already lost two starters to significant injuries.
Last week, the Bulls announced that small forward Mike Dunleavy would miss 8–10 weeks after undergoing back surgery. Dunleavy then made a point to clarify at media day that he didn’t have a set timeline for return.
Then, a mere four days later, the Bulls announced Tuesday that point guard Derrick Rose will require surgery to repair a left orbital fracture caused by an elbow to the face during practice. He underwent the procedure on Wednesday and will return to basketball activities in two weeks. The Bulls expect him to be ready for opening night on Oct. 27.
All things considered, Rose’s injury is fairly common by NBA standards. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley sustained a similar injury during the 2015 playoffs and returned to the court in 10 days, missing just three games. Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook missed just one game after sustaining a similar injury in late-February. Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo missed roughly two weeks and six games in February. Magic guard Victor Oladipo was out roughly three weeks when he suffered the same injury during preseason practice last October, missing the first nine games of Orlando’s season. On average, InStreetClothes.com estimates that players who undergo surgery for orbital fractures during the season will miss roughly 13 games.
Given that the Bulls’ Oct. 27 season opener against the Cavaliers is roughly one month away, it’s possible that Rose doesn’t miss any regular season action. And, in comparison to Rose’s long list of serious knee injuries, an orbital fracture, while undoubtedly painful, is a relatively minor issue that is attributable to bad luck rather than chronic problems.
While panic over Rose’s injury and immediate status might not be warranted, the diagnosis continues a nightmare start to the season for the 2011 MVP. This week alone, Rose has seen his name pop up in endless tabloid headlines surrounding an alleged sexual assault, and he generated some backlash when he openly drooled at media day over the thought of the riches that await him in free agency … in July 2017. Taken together, it’s not difficult for critics to portray Rose as a man whose dirty laundry is flapping in the breeze, whose foot is perpetually stuck in his mouth, whose mind is on his wallet rather than his playbook, and whose body still can’t reliably hold up to the rigors of the NBA season. Rose’s defenders would surely assert that this view of him is unfair, but they would also need to admit that Rose hasn’t done himself any favors.
The Bulls will feel Rose’s absence, even if he’s back on the court by the time the games start to count. These are particularly valuable days for a rookie head coach, and Hoiberg faces numerous lineup decisions in camp, many which trace back to Rose. Should Chicago ditch its traditional approach with two big men for smaller looks? Is it time to start Nikola Mirotic? What’s the best way to fill Dunleavy’s minutes? Can Hoiberg find the right combinations to implement the fast-pace, three-heavy style he played at Iowa State? Can his new lineups gel in time for the start of the season? How many minutes can Rose handle, how should Chicago approach his playing time during back-to-backs, and how can Hoiberg convince Rose not to settle for so many perimeter jumpers? And, crucially, will Rose and Jimmy Butler be able to strike the right balance when they play together?
Once again, Chicago is left waiting on Rose to return to the court so that it can get to work on answering key questions. A quiet summer from a roster standpoint gives Hoiberg only two unspectacular retreads—Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks—to fill the hole until Rose returns. In the meantime, Butler will surely assert himself as a ball-handler and play-maker, as he did when Rose missed time last season, and that could lead to rekindled tension once everyone is back healthy.
The “Here we go, again” frustration cloud is now hovering for a fourth straight season over the Bulls, who have been snake bitten since their run to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. Remember, Hoiberg’s arrival was supposed to represent a fresh start for everyone, including Rose, after a drama-filled season ended in disappointing fashion and brought the Tom Thibodeau era to an end. Instead, the slate couldn’t even stay clean until the first preseason game.
Will those familiar feelings of frustration conjure up the same old bad habits—shaky chemistry, inconsistent play—that doomed the Bulls last spring? It feels way too early to be asking that question, but then again maybe not.