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.