What if Derrick Rose had never torn his ACL on the fateful late April day in 2012? We asked our Bulls Talk team, and here’s what they had to say:
Derrick Rose’s unfortunate injury produced plenty of what if’s for Bulls fans and observers, thoughts of title runs and clashes with LeBron James in the attempt to interrupt his run of dominance in the East.
Surely, the Bulls would’ve broken through one of those years, right?
Sorry to say, but no.
2011 was the Bulls’ best chance: Rose at his peak, Thibs’ defense at its freshest and James’ Miami Heat still figuring it out. Five games, goodnight. The Heat got markedly better and the Bulls’ ceiling would’ve never been that high. So even if Rose never suffered another serious health setback, the Bulls wouldn’t have brought him the adequate co-star to truly compete with James at his apex.
Superstars didn’t change teams at such a rapid rate back then, and it’s easy to see the Bulls being content taking multiple runs at James with the status quo.
Jimmy Butler didn’t truly ascend until 2014-15, and James had left Miami to return to Cleveland. By that time, the Bulls weren’t the ultra-rugged bunch anymore and the six-game semifinal series would’ve likely produced the same result that spring.
In essence, Rose and the Bulls would’ve been the 90’s Knicks—good, but not great enough.
Derrick Rose minus the knee injuries is indeed this generation’s biggest what if, and it’s pretty depressing. Part of me thought Rose would have really needed to improve his 3-point shot to remain elite, but Russell Westbrook is a career 31 percent 3-point shooter in 10 seasons and has only gotten more dominant as he nears 30 years old. And indeed, the Rose-Westbrook battles would have been the most riveting in the league for the next decade. Two ultra-quick point guards who thrived at and above the rim. Remember, too, that Rose’s assist percentage had gone up each of his first four seasons – maybe he could have done more to prevent that strain on his knees, but he was distributing more every year. Rose was never going to be a defensive standout, but it’s not out of the question to believe he could have averaged double-digit assists at some point; think John Wall when he averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists last season.
Then, of course, perhaps free agents would have been more likely to join a healthy, surging Rose. Maybe Carmelo Anthony decides to join a double-double Rose in Chicago, knowing Rose will find him early and often on the wing. Rose never wanted to recruit, but seven healthy seasons of Hall of Fame numbers would have recruited itself.
No, the Bulls don’t win a championship with a healthy Rose. Let’s not forget that the year after Rose tore his ACL, LeBron James posted one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. That Heat team was destined for greatness, and they were REALLY good the year Rose tore his ACL against the Sixers. Like Michael Jordan in the 90s, some opponents were destined to never win it all. Unfortunately the 2010s Bulls were one of those. Then again, watching a healthy Rose square off against Kyrie Irving for a chance to then square off against Steph Curry in the NBA Finals would have been epic, epic television. For now all we can do is imagine it.
Bulls’ fans can only dream about what Derrick Rose and the Bulls might have accomplished if Rose hadn’t suffered that devastating knee injury back in April 2012. They might have won a championship that year (although Rose battled a series of nagging injuries during the lockout-shortened regular season), and their championship window seemingly would have been open for the next half dozen seasons.
But my belief is Rose’s body was like a ticking time bomb because of his style of play. The speed and power that made him such a great player also put incredible stress on his knees and ankles. How many highlights have we seen of Rose violently jumping sideways off one leg to avoid a shot-blocking big man in his path? It made for incredible highlights, but sooner or later Rose’s body was going to break down. What’s really sad is the succession of follow-up injuries that robbed Derrick of the explosive skills that made him the league’s youngest MVP, and turned him into an NBA journeyman in his late 20s.
As for the Bulls franchise? Tom Thibodeau’s personality clash with the Bulls front office probably made a divorce inevitable at some point. Thibs loved to overplay his starters, leading to shortened careers for Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, and Carlos Boozer never was going to play any defense, so maybe getting one title out of that group is all we really could have hoped for. Putting up the league’s best record in 2011 and 2012 seems like a lifetime ago, but it’s all we have left from the Rose-Thibodeau era.
If Derrick Rose had not torn his ACL the Bulls would have celebrated their seventh NBA championship and possibly have reached the NBA Finals two more times. With Rose’s athleticism and his explosive game, he was unstoppable one-on-one. Also, take into account the blend of tough players around him and a hard-nosed defensive coach, the Bulls were built to win a championship. Yes, the Miami Heat with their Hall of fame trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were there. However, the previous year the Bulls gave them a hell of a run in the Eastern Conference Finals. I believe Derrick Rose and Co. grew from that experience and were poised to defeat the Heat and whoever else stood in their way.
"If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas." Bulls’ players and fans both young and old cringe when they think of April 28, 2012. The future was so bright that we were all wearing shades. Noah, Butler, Gibson, Deng, to mention a few, along with D-Rose were going to carry the organization back to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, the future never panned out like we had allowed ourselves to dream. Let's say that fateful late afternoon didn't happen and this train kept barreling down the track. Conference Finals, The Finals, championships were all within grasp. But, let's not forget about, That Guy! The one many called "The King." He was, and currently still is, the thorn in the Bulls’ and every other team in the East’s side. Remember 2010? 2015? LeBron, for the Bulls, was that guy that stole your lunch money, your girl and the life you were supposed to have. The Bulls were George McFLy and LeBron was Biff. Where's Doc Brown when you need him?
I must also point out: Besides the ACL, Rose had to deal with injuries to his wrist, right hip, left wrist, big toe, lower back, groin, ankle, right meniscus (twice), hamstring tendinitis, left patella tendinitis, left elbow, etc... Rose burst on the scene and changed how the game was played. He was as fast as a cheetah, quicker than a cat and stronger than a bull. I just feel the way he played the game he was always going to miss games because of injury, but nothing like the absence caused by an ACL that I also feel led to some of his other injuries. You take all the above and ask the Magic 8 ball…maybe, probably, unlikely, absolutely.... I think the more likely answer is: "The timing of it all was not in the Bulls’ favor." Injuries and LeBron were too big a mountain to climb. That being said, I would love to have seen Rose and the Bulls play the Mavericks in 2011 or the Thunder in 2012 or…unfortunately this discussion/argument will always be Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. Ironically that came out in 2009.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Yes, the Bulls would have won MULTIPLE championships if Rose had never torn his ACL that April evening. Let’s start with that 2012 playoff run that was cut short. The Bulls were 50-16 in a lockout-shortened 66 game season. They won nearly 76 percent of their games. That’s 62 wins in a full-length season. The Bulls were primed to bounce back from getting eliminated by the Heat in the East finals the season prior. The Bulls were a better offensive AND defensive team than Miami in the 2011-12 season. They would have beaten them in the playoffs and the Thunder in the Finals.
Oh, and while we are here. The Bulls had just drafted Jimmy Butler in 2011. All of the critics saying Butler was never going to win a title being the best player on a team? Rose would have been the superstar he was destined to be. Don’t give me the personality conflict BS; they both just wanted to win. Rose would never have to worry about recruiting because an MVP winning rings doesn’t need to make phone calls. Tom Thibodeau and the front office would have gotten along and red confetti would have flowed down Michigan avenue (OK, Thibs and the FO still would have fought. A healthy Rose would never change that).