Derrick Rose is hurt again. Where do the Bulls go from here?

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CHICAGO—On Tuesday night, the Bulls delivered the devastating news that Derrick Rose would need yet another knee surgery after suffering a second tear of the medial meniscus in his right knee. It was a crushing blow for Rose and for the Bulls, who had been rounding into shape as the contenders everyone thought they’d be. The loss of Rose opens up a lot of questions about this team’s future both in the short and long term.

How long will Rose be out?

At shootaround on Wednesday morning, Thibodeau said that when Rose had the last surgery, the team knew it was a possibility he’d tear the meniscus again.

Rose’s timetable for recovery is not clear, and it won’t be until after he undergoes knee surgery. A date for the procedure still hasn’t been set, and we don’t know what kind of surgery he’ll opt for. Last season, he chose to repair the meniscus rather than remove it, which meant missing the rest of the season. If he goes that route again, then he will once again miss the rest of the year.

If Rose chooses to remove the meniscus instead of repair it, he could be back sooner, maybe even by the time of the playoffs. This is the route that Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and others have gone, and it’s risky. It allows them to come back sooner, but it can be more detrimental to their long-term health.

Plus, we’re far enough into the season now that a six-week recovery from the latter surgery (likely the best-case scenario) would put Rose on pace to come back in the second week of April, with just a few games left before the playoffs start. Even if he’s fully physically cleared to play, the mental hurdles that come with it are going to be tough for Rose to clear, especially after everything he’s been through. It’s already been an up-and-down process to integrate him back into the starting lineup after two years off, and his play was uneven. Throwing him back into playoff-level action coming right off this surgery and expecting him to play at a high level is unrealistic at best and reckless at worst.

The team will know more after Rose undergoes surgery, but it’s a safe assumption that they will be going the rest of the season without him.

Will the Bulls make a move in the short term?

It’s bad luck for the Bulls that Rose’s injury was discovered after the trade deadline, because their ability to make moves is now extremely limited. Chicago has an open roster spot, but they can only sign a player to a 10-day contract or the veteran’s minimum. There’s a good chance they do that.

“I’m sure John and Gar have a list of guys and we’ll be hearing from a lot of people,” Thibodeau said at shootaround. “But right now, we’re concerned about Derrick and the guys we do have here. I don’t know what options we may have. We’re always looking at different options anyway. But we haven’t discussed anything yet.”

One player who immediately comes to mind is Nate Robinson, who has been without a team since January. Robinson was Rose’s fill-in for the 2012-13 season, most notable for scoring 34 points in a triple-overtime playoff win over the Brooklyn Nets. He was a fan favorite and excelled as a source of instant offense off the bench when he was in Chicago. But the Bulls already have Aaron Brooks for that role, and they might go the direction of bringing in a facilitator instead.

Mike James, another Thibodeau favorite, is a name they could look at. That’s the caliber of player they’d be able to bring in. Unless something unexpected happens on the buyout market before the March 1 playoff-eligibility deadline, the options are pretty unexciting. But with the point-guard depth limited now to Brooks and Kirk Hinrich, who has battled injuries of his own this season, it’s a good bet that they’ll bring in somebody.

How far can the Bulls go without Rose this season?

They’re probably not title contenders without Rose, as inconsistent as he’s been. But they still have plenty of talent, and a coach that has specialized in getting the absolute most out of any collection of players he has, no matter what. They’re still going to be competitive—that much is obvious.

The good news is that this Bulls team is much more talented than either of the previous two. Last year, after Rose went down and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland, the team’s leading scorer was D.J. Augustin. This year, they have more weapons. Jimmy Butler has emerged as an All-Star talent and first option on offense, which he wasn’t last year. Pau Gasol commands a double-team. Tony Snell, who has emerged as a threat since the All-Star break, will get more time.

Combine that with the steadiness of Taj Gibson and the improved recent play of a finally-healthy Joakim Noah, and the Bulls absolutely could—and probably will—win a first-round series.

Beyond that, who knows? A trip to the Eastern Conference Finals depends on the matchup they get in the second round, and none of those look favorable. The Hawks and Cavs are the two strongest teams in the conference, and beating either one of them in a seven-game series is a rough proposition without Rose. Even if they had him, those teams are so deep and talented that it would have been a bloodbath. As inconsistent as Rose has been, the dropoff from him to Brooks and Hinrich is huge. Just the threat of him having a game like the 30-point explosion against the Cavs right before the All-Star break is something that will be extremely difficult to make up.

The likeliest scenario is a second-round exit, unless Rose shocks the league and comes back in time for the playoffs and plays his best basketball of the season. Don’t hold your breath.

How does Rose’s injury impact the franchise’s long-term outlook?

For better or worse, this Bulls core will be what the Bulls have to work with for the next several years. Butler hits restricted free agency this summer, and the team has been adamant that they’ll match any offer he gets. Noah is too good to trade and has too much of an injury history to get fair value for.

Even if the Bulls wanted to cut their losses with Rose after this latest injury—and there’s been no indication that they do—moving him would be next to impossible. He’s set to make $20 million next season and $21.3 million in 2016-17, and will be coming off what is now three consecutive knee surgeries. The Bulls and Rose are in it for the long haul together, regardless of what he’s able to do on the court.

Still, even if Rose gives them nothing over the final two years of his deal, Chicago has a solid core of Butler, Noah, Gibson and Nikola Mirotic to build around. And if Rose is never again the superstar he was before the injuries, it’s still not unreasonable to expect him to be a contributor in a smaller role.

The more interesting wrinkle of his injury is what it might mean for Tom Thibodeau’s future. The coach and the Bulls’ front office don’t have a great relationship as it is. That’s been widely reported. But as long as they’re winning, it’s going to be difficult to part ways. Another season-ending Rose injury taking them out of title contention would potentially make it easier for the team to decide that the Thibodeau era has run its course.

There is a lot of uncertainty around the Bulls after the injury, both in the short and long term. Losing a player like Rose again sucks on both a basketball level and a professional level, and it remains to be seen how the team will respond. But the future isn’t all dark.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.