The sad ballad of Derrick Rose, as Chicago’s future sinks into uncertainty

It’s not news to a single soul in the NBA: Derrick Rose hasn’t been what he once was, and he’ll never return to that glorious stage of his career.

Repeated injuries have taken away the explosiveness which made Rose a singular force in professional basketball. The ability to throw his body into contact with such velocity, time after time, imbued Rose’s game with an imposing — even menacing — quality. How could defenses possibly prevent Rose from getting two free throws on demand? Even if a defense’s game plan was tactically sound, Rose could still drive pell-mell to the hoop and contort his body in ways that would confound defenders in some form or fashion.

He was a wonder of the world, the transcendent kind of player who could give a team — the Chicago Bulls, in his case — a bright new future.

That Derrick Rose is gone. It’s been known for some time.

What’s worth mentioning is not Rose’s condition, but the fact that this diminished Derrick couldn’t lift his game or work around its diminishments on a night when the Bulls absolutely had to have something special.

Mired in a three-game losing streak and playing at home, the Bulls had to find a way to handle the Atlanta Hawks in order to harbor realistic playoff aspirations heading into the final two weeks of the season. The calendar is increasingly populated with back-to-back games, the very situations Rose’s body is not built to handle at this point in his snake-bitten career.

Monday’s game against Atlanta was in fact the front end of a back-to-back set. The Bulls visit Indiana Tuesday night, so if Rose had to call forth one of his better performances in the 2015-2016 season, Monday was the time to do it.

He — or rather, his broken body — could not do it.

The mind is willing, but the body is weak.

We’ve seen Rose post inefficient shooting numbers before — even in the good times of 2011 and 2012. Rose’s jump shot has not been the prettiest or most dependable piece of mechanics you’ve ever seen. Even the MVP-level Rose of past times could accumulate quite a lot of bricks. Viewed through that lens, Rose’s 8-of-25 shooting line on Monday in a 102-100 loss to the Hawks does not raise an eyebrow.

What’s more conspicuous about the present-day Rose — as one of several major problems facing the Bulls organization — is that he couldn’t get to the foul line with any regularity. Just two free throws graced Rose’s stat line on Monday, and that’s the thing the Bulls could have used more than anything else in the final tormenting, torturing minutes of regulation time, which were an aesthetic disaster.

Taj Gibson airballed an 18-foot baseline jumper.

Mike Dunleavy missed a layup.

Pau Gasol watched shots roll off the rim.

Only Aaron Brooks kept Chicago’s hopes afloat in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Jimmy Butler hit a three, but only in the final 20 seconds of play, after the Hawks had attained enough leverage that they simply needed to make free throws to hold on for the win (and the Southeast Division lead).

In the midst of these misses, how beneficial it would have been for someone, anyone, to get to the foul line. The old Derrick Rose was that player.

The new version? The best he could do was shoot 12-foot leaners. The problem wasn’t that the 12-foot shots missed; it’s that Rose just can’t expect to get right to the tin anymore.

The Bulls can’t expect it, either.

It’s a fine — and very sad — mess to contemplate in Chicago.

This organization — not wrongly — depended on Rose to be the guy who could earn foul shots on demand in the final minutes of close games, giving the Bulls a readily-available edge over most teams in the league. Old Rose was that player. New Rose is not.

Joakim Noah’s stay in Chicago is almost certainly at an end. With the lottery now an even greater likelihood in the Windy City, and with the talent level on this roster so conspicuously lacking in light of Rose’s deficits, what is the plan for the future? That question isn’t raised in a critical way; it’s merely the question Chicago has to address with creativity and foresight.

Derrick Rose’s future is simultaneously the Chicago Bulls’ future: shrouded in uncertainty, with a winning path being very hard to find in the present moment.

Few team-specific NBA offseasons are going to be more fascinating than the Bulls’ upcoming journey. The Summer of Doubt is uncomfortably close in Chicago, with a playoff berth rapidly slipping away.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.