HOUSTON -- The tenor of the rest of the Chicago Bulls' season isn't any different than it was when it started back in late October. Wins and losses over these last 30 regular season games are secondary to most Bulls fans. The question on their minds is whether or not Derrick Rose is coming back this season.
It's the one that will continue to shadow every move the Bulls make until it's decided for sure whether or not the former MVP will play this season. Rose, who participated for what is believed to be the first time in full five-on-five scrimmages Monday afternoon, left open the possibility last week that he may sit for the entire season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL in his left knee.
While All-Star teammates Joakim Noah and Luol Deng went out of their way to support Rose in any decision he makes regarding his future, both players and all their teammates understand the reality: If Rose does not come back this season, their chances of winning a title are gone.
For as well as the Bulls have played this season, whatever chance they have to make some noise in the postseason will be gone if Rose decides he is not mentally and physically prepared to play this season. His decision is key to every other decision the Bulls will make.
Here are four other questions facing the Bulls as they head into the second half of the season:
Can they stay healthy? Deng joked after Sunday's All-Star Game that while the exhibition affair wasn't his type of contest, he did enjoy the atmosphere.
"It was cool," Deng said. "Not my type of game, but it was fun. … I played D like once. That was a good feeling not having to play D. But it was fun, man."
The good times without defense are over for Deng. He will be asked to play 40-plus minutes a night as the Bulls head into the final stretch of their regular season schedule. He and Noah will carry the load on both sides of the floor as Rose continues his rehab. The biggest question is: can they both stay healthy along with Carlos Boozer? Deng and Boozer have dealt with hamstring injuries this season but appear to be past them as they head into the last two months. Noah, on the other hand, is a different story. He had PRP treatment to help alleviate some pain in his right foot as he continues to recover from plantar fasciitis. He seems to be in better condition now, but it's an issue to watch the rest of the way as are Kirk Hinrich’s continuing injury issues.
Will they make a deal? Fans have been wondering about this all year. The short answer is… likely no. If the Bulls could, they wouldn't mind moving veterans like Boozer and Rip Hamilton to save themselves from the luxury tax threshold and possibly get another young, cheap asset. But right now it doesn't seem like anything is going to happen. The Bulls are hard-capped and the market for Boozer and Hamilton isn't exactly booming. The odds are much higher that the Bulls will stand pat and wait until the offseason to do some re-shuffling.
Will the bench continue to produce? Aside from Nazr Mohammed's ineffectiveness, the bench has been a pleasant surprise for Tom Thibodeau. Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli have all been solid at various points throughout the season and have helped ease the transition from the Bench Mob that Chicago fell in love with the past two years. If they can keep it up, Bulls GM Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson will feel extremely happy about most of the decisions they made in the offseason as they continue to hang onto the notion of flexibility moving forward.
How will the schedule unfold? On paper, the next six weeks of the Bulls' schedule is brutal. It's chock full of games against teams with winning records, including two games apiece with the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and one showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Bulls also mix in another west coast swing in which they face a Los Angeles Lakers team that is playing better and a revitalized Golden State Warriors squad. If the Bulls can make it into April and hold onto a solid record they should feel very good about themselves. Maybe Rose will be back by then, maybe he won't, but the schedule gets much easier for the Bulls in April and should provide a nice respite before the playoffs begin.