Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Bulls followers.
1. Will Derrick Rose still be an MVP-caliber player when he returns?
Nick Friedell: I believe he can be. The question is whether he can stay healthy -- and that's the answer nobody knows. Many believe Rose will have to change the way he plays, but as Tom Thibodeau and his teammates have all said, that isn't likely to happen. Their point is that players are who they are. Rose is physically gifted and athletic. He can't change who he is.
Jon Greenberg: Yeah, I don't see any reason why not. Seriously. Rose has suffered two season-ending knee injuries, but these are specific, separate injuries, not a degenerative condition. Unlike, say, Grant Hill, his injuries weren't misdiagnosed, but rather fixed quickly and given the optimal time to recover. After taking the season off to rehab from ACL surgery, Rose came back with the same speed, the same first step. I don't think meniscus surgery will inhibit that unique ability that made him an MVP in the first place. Now, the question is how durable will Rose be for the rest of his career? After an injury-free three seasons, he's missed all but 50 games of the past three. That's not a good trend. I just hope that Rose finds a way to play fearlessly when he comes back.
Scoop Jackson: That's the biggest problem with this whole thing: There is no answer to that question. We don't know. It's beyond the "MVP-caliber player" part of the question that is at the center of it. At this point, realistically, this is about if he'll return, period. We can't forget that this latest injury was his third (neck, hamstring) this season and they were only 11 games in. It's scary because there's so much uncertainty surrounding his ability to stay healthy. It's like re-living Vince Carter ... only worse.
2. How far are the Bulls capable of going this season without Rose?
Friedell: Same as last year. If they get the right matchup they can beat a team in the first round. But their title aspirations are gone.
Greenberg: I'm not saying the Bulls have a low ceiling, but Mike James might want to duck. The Bulls should be able to get into the playoffs on the strength of their team defense, but I'll be shocked if they finish with more than 41 wins. And I definitely don't see them getting another first-round playoff win. That was a fantastic, delightful, inspiring fluke. This is a seven- or eight-seed team that will get worked by Miami or Indiana. That fate might even be an optimistic stretch without adding some short-term scoring help. Last season, the Bulls averaged 92.3 points per game, tied for the worst in the NBA. They are less dynamic this season. Without Rose, the Bulls really have to work to get shots and that's a stress on everyone. You think this team can stay healthy? One or two injuries and this is a legit lottery team, much to the delight of pro-tanking fans.
Jackson: It depends on what your definition of "far" is. The East is so bad that the Bulls can play below-.500 basketball and still get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Now, are they good enough to get past a team in a first-round matchup? Depends. A team like Charlotte that's just happy to be there could be vulnerable, but a team like the Knicks that has more pressure on them to win than the Bulls will be close to impossible to beat. And it all depends on whether the Bulls decide to stay the course with this team. If they decide to go the "tank" route, then it doesn't matter what the definition of "far" is.
3. Will Marquis Teague take advantage of the increased workload and take the next step in his development?
Friedell: No. Teague has shown no indication that will happen. He has been given some chances by Thibodeau in recent days and shown little improvement from last year. He's still young, but his time to impress is running out.
Greenberg: No. This is just an opinion, but I don't think Teague is very good. Prove me wrong Marquis! Of course, when I say that, I'm comparing him to truly useful players. I'm sure Teague can stick around in the league -- he can get to the rim -- but I'm not sure he's the type of player Thibodeau trusts. A lot was made of Nate Robinson's deficiencies last year (this season, he's missed by fans like a lost love) but Thibodeau lived with them because Nate could score in bunches. While Robinson would jack up ill-advised pull-up threes, he bought into Thibodeau's system, never complained and showed more basketball IQ than he's given credit for. I'm not sure what Teague can do or what he knows, and if Thibodeau doesn't trust him, and there's no evidence he does, we won't see much of Teague. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bulls look for a combo guard in a trade.
Jackson: Yes. But that won't stop the Bulls from going out and trying to find someone to be the backup point guard. Unless Teague looks at this and takes advantage of this as a blessing in disguise, then the Bulls are not going to have the faith in him that he's going to need for them to have in him if he's going to remain on this team. While his workload right now is about to increase, for how long is all up to him.