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Rose's injury changes Bulls' season, franchise's future

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Rose's injury changes Bulls' season, franchise's future

It was almost as if they already knew. Not just the severity of Derrick Rose's left-knee injury -- now confirmed as a torn ACL -- but in the Bulls' locker room, the somber feeling conveyed how grim the future would be.

What Kyle Korver called "saddest win" was indeed just that, a fitting, disastrous conclusion to the league's reigning MVP's injury-plagued campaign. Just when things began to look bright -- Rose was in the midst of a near triple-double performance in the opening game of the NBA playoffs, scoring 23 points, dishing out nine assists and snatching nine rebounds in a Game 1 rout over the 76ers -- the future of one of the game's brightest stars, as well as an entire franchise, changed when, with 1:20 left in the blowout win, Rose drove, left his feet and while in mid-air, before dropping off a pass to Carlos Boozer, crumpled to the ground after hearing something "pop" in the back of his knee, a source familiar with the situation told CSNChicago.com the All-Star point guard said afterwards.

In the short term, things won't be so bad, as the Bulls, as Tom Thibodeau is fond of saying, "have more than enough" to knock off the Sixers, who were simply unable to deal with the Bulls' size and multiple weapons, namely the dual threat of wings Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton. As brilliant as Rose was in Game 1, his outing was more of icing on the cake, as backup point guard C.J. Watson is a more than capable scorer and distributor, and the Bulls' stout defense won't be affected by their superstar's absence against the undersized, scoring-challenged Sixers.

But moving forward, assuming an experienced Boston squad gets by Atlanta, the tremendous depth of the Bulls might not be enough to survive the veteran Celtics, as Rose would be needed to at least cancel out point-guard counterpart Rajon Rondo, if not outplay him. During Rose's previous absences in the regular season -- including the season-ending knee injury, he suffered six separate setbacks over the course of the campaign -- Joakim Noah often said, "We need Derrick to get to where we want to get to," and he couldn't have been more correct.

Now, with Rose likely out for six months, if not more time, the Bulls' championship aspirations have to be put on hold. Don't forget, fellow All-Star Luol Deng postponed surgery on his left wrist in pursuit of a title this season and with his obligations to the British national team -- Great Britain is the host country for the upcoming Summer Olympics in his adopted hometown of London -- the Bulls will probably be without their two most significant players to start next season.

Rose probably needed to rest after this season, whether or not the Bulls made a title run, but while the Olympics aren't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, one has to wonder what kind of player he'll be after he returns. An ACL injury is no longer the death sentence it was for players' careers in the past, but at 23, Rose admittedly hasn't developed enough parts of his game that don't rely on his remarkable speed, explosiveness and athleticism to be a dominant force.

It's a fact that the Chicago native has a legendary work ethic and will put in long hours to recover his burst, as well as hone other parts of his game that will serve him well as an NBA veteran, something which would have happened even prior to the injury. However, when examining other marquee talents who have returned from major knee issues -- from big man Amar'e Stoudemire to former scoring champ Tracy McGrady and even Gilbert Arenas, all top-tier athletes -- it's clear that he has a long road ahead of him and there's no guarantee that he'll ever be the same player.

That said, as much as Thibodeau will be questioned for leaving Rose in a game that late with a double-digit lead -- something that he frequently does and came back to bite him, albeit in a less severe fashion, in last season's first-round series against the Pacers when Rose twisted his ankle -- the All-Star point guard could have hurt himself at any point in the game, as has been witnessed throughout the season. After missing 27 regular-season games and finding his groove against the Sixers, it's laughable that Rose would have asked out of the contest, though Bulls management might disagree.

If Thibodeau's lack of a contract extension was thought to be an issue before the injury, it will certainly be magnified now, as the front office has more ammunition to not extend him, give him a deal worthy of his coaching prowess or even opt to part ways. While there are playoff games left to be played, Rose's future has to be weighing heavily on the minds of an organization that made a significant investment in the homegrown product over the next five years, building a team around his unique abilities that has three other players -- Deng, Noah and Boozer -- also making eight-figure salaries per year for multiple seasons.

All of a sudden, the Bulls' championship window, believed to be open for years to come -- but certainly if not this season, the next -- looks a lot less open, unless Rose fully recovers from his injury much faster and better than most cases, something that can't be put past him, but won't be encouraged, as both the Bulls and his camp will preach patience. The problem is, in this trying season, in which Rose routinely has said, "God does everything for a reason," he's already shown the patience of Job.

From last season's Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami through the waning moments of Saturday's game, even through all of Rose's litany of injuries, the prevailing thought was the worst-case scenario for the Bulls this season would be again falling short of the NBA Finals, due to not being able to get by the rival Heat for the second consecutive year.

Now, ending the season in that manner -- instead of, for all intents and purposes, it ending with 1:20 remaining in Game 1 of the first round -- would seem like a blessing.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.