That was the biggest takeaway from Wednesday's news that Rose had been dealt to the New York Knicks for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon. In truth, Rose and his inner circle hadn't had the same clout within the Bulls organization for several years because of all the injury woes and public missteps the 27-year-old endured the past couple of seasons. But no matter how much Rose's image changed within the organization, his presence hovered over everything the Bulls did -- until Bulls GM Gar Forman stepped to the microphone Wednesday and acknowledged that after eight years of professional marriage, the Bulls and Rose had divorced.
The reality of Rose not being in a Bulls uniform anymore wasn't a shocking turn of events. Privately, Bulls executives have been ready to part ways with Rose for months. Aside from the distraction that some of his public statements caused, the feeling within the organization was that Rose was no longer a special or durable player. To many, after all the injuries, Rose had become just another point guard in a league full of mediocre point guards. The trust that Rose created between the franchise and the city in his first few years in the league was gone.
As much as Rose wanted to stay in Chicago his entire career, those closest to him knew a divorce was on the horizon. The finality of it all is what struck both fans and front-office members when the trade became official. In the process, the Bulls ended one emotional era full of ups and downs and started another.
"I wouldn't call it a rebuild," Forman said of what the Rose deal means for his team. "I guess I would call it a retool."
Forman can spin it however he likes, but Rose's deal is absolutely the first step in rebuilding this roster. For years, every move the Bulls made centered on Rose. He was at the heart of every transaction Forman and executive VP John Paxson made. Now that he's gone, the Bulls have to decide which direction they want to go.
Many Bulls fans aren't pleased about getting Lopez, Grant and Calderon in return for the former MVP, but the Bulls felt that was clearly the best offer on the table. Multiple league sources indicated that in other proposed Rose deals, teams wanted the Bulls to include a future first-round pick in order to take the final year of Rose's contract.
The key for the Bulls in this deal will be how Grant develops in coach Fred Hoiberg's system. Forman reiterated how much the team liked Grant, the Notre Dame product, coming out of last year's draft. He should give the Bulls a much-needed jolt of athleticism, but his underwhelming rookie season (just 5.6 points per game) has many in the league wondering just how much he can develop.
At 28 years old, Lopez has proved to be a solid rotational player and will likely be the Bulls' starting center on opening night, after the expected departures of veterans Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. The intriguing part of Lopez's inclusion is the extra money and years left on his deal. Forman made it clear when he didn't deal Gasol at last season's deadline that the organization wasn't going to take on extra salary if it didn't make the team better; cap space is an asset on its own. With the new economics of the league, Lopez's contract should age nicely in the mega-bucks era of the NBA, and he's locked in for three more seasons. That move alone signifies a change in Forman's stance over recent months.
Little is expected of Calderon, an 11-year veteran nearing the end of his career.
The bigger questions moving forward revolve around All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler. Although some around the league believe the Rose deal is a signal that the Bulls want to move forward with Butler as the focal point and new face of the team, several league sources insisted Wednesday that the Bulls are still inclined to move Butler if the right pieces present themselves. For his part, Forman didn't give Butler a ringing endorsement as the future king of the Bulls when given the chance Wednesday.
"I think this is all our team," Forman said. "I think we have a core group of players and obviously the coaching staff and organization. Basketball is a team game, a five-man game. Obviously, Jimmy being an All-Star is our best player. But I don’t think you go as far as saying it’s this guy’s team. It’s everybody’s team."
If Forman and the Bulls' front office believed this is Butler's team, he would have said as much. That he didn't leaves open the possibility that Butler could start elsewhere next season. If Butler does remain in Chicago, Wednesday serves as the line marking when the Bulls finally became his team. All the pressure and responsibility that come with being the team's best player and leader are his until further notice. The 26-year-old has been yearning for that mantle the past two years; now he has it.
As for the rest of the Bulls' roster, it appears this was just the first step in a longer process. With one year and just $8 million remaining on his deal, Taj Gibson is another likely candidate to start next season on another team. The same goes for veteran Mike Dunleavy, who struggled after offseason back surgery a year ago.
The Bulls could go in a variety of directions in Thursday's draft, in which they hold the 14th pick. But they badly need to hit after missing on Marquis Teague and Tony Snell in recent years and watching as Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott have struggled to find a rhythm.
No matter which direction the Bulls go, they took an important first step toward change on Wednesday. In the wake of the Rose news, Forman stood confidently behind the podium and answered questions for almost 20 minutes. For an organization that has struggled in recent years to show unity in high-pressure situations, the Rose news conference served as a new beginning.
Whether the Bulls made the right decision in dealing Rose remains to be seen, but the organization made the choice to move forward without him, and it isn't looking back.