Good tidings for the basketball world: Derrick Rose is walking freely again. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau noted on Monday that the injured star -- who underwent surgery to address a torn meniscus on Nov. 25 -- has progressed to the point that he no longer needs crutches. From ESPN Chicago:
"He's coming along fine," coach Tom Thibodeau said after Monday's shootaround. "He's off the crutches. He's doing more and more but he still has a long way to go. But he'll probably start traveling in the next couple weeks. He's doing great."
Officially, Rose remains ruled out for the season, as has been the case since the team's initial public comments on this particular injury. For his part, though, Rose has left the door open for a possible late-season (or postseason) return. In his first press conference following surgery, Rose insisted that his availability depends wholly on his ability to heal and rehabilitate. Provided he meets that standard, he'll return to the floor:
“If I’m healthy and the situation is right, I’m going to be back playing. If I’m healthy and my meniscus is fully healed, of course I’ll be out there playing. But if it’s something totally different and the outcome is not how I would want it to be, there’s no need.”
Chicago has continued its now-bleak season bearing the full weight of Rose's absence. On the court, the Bulls have been the second-worst offensive team in the league since Rose's injury on Nov. 22 -- just a negligible bit better than the horrid Bucks. Even that, though, isn't enough to wipe out Chicago as a playoff contender; even in lesser form, the 17-18 Bulls remain the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. The state of the conference on the whole is as such that even a sputtering Chicago offense might make the cut, if only because Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau will keep his team working and defending no matter their lesser ranks.
Such efforts will only be more difficult from here on out, as Chicago traded All-Star forward Luol Deng to Cleveland as a means of trimming salary and procuring future draft considerations. Deng was to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and to the point of the trade had failed to agree to terms on a possible extension with the Bulls. That left Chicago in a precarious place heading down the stretch of the season, and ultimately led the Bulls to redeem some value for Deng now rather than risk losing him outright in July. The franchise's entire outlook change when Rose went down with yet another major injury, and from that point the value in keeping Deng for the year was eclipsed by the flexibility and savings that trading him would provide.
That move can also be interpreted as a precursor to the next: The seemingly inevitable amnestying of forward Carlos Boozer this summer. With Deng gone and Kirk Hinrich's contract set to expire at the end of the season, the Bulls is positioned to open up a workable window under the salary cap -- provided they cut ties with Boozer and the $16.8 million he's owed next year. Utilizing the amnesty clause wouldn't compromise any of the salary Boozer will draw next season, but it would wipe the full value of his contract off of Chicago's cap sheet. From there, the Bulls would have room to potentially sign Euroleague star Nikola Mirotic (whose rights Chicago owns) and then some. While Rose's progress is good news in itself, the die is cast for the Bulls whether Rose sports crutches or not. His injury has already altered Chicago's goals for the season, and set in motion a chain of events to reboot the roster. Even an ahead-of-schedule return wouldn't bring back Deng or keep Boozer in Chicago; the writing is on the wall for this particular team, which was deprived a chance at any staying power by a brutal turn of injuries.