At least one of them we could see. The other caught us by complete surprise, arriving not with a bang, but an email.
The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane was cross-checked into the boards by Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic, crumpling awkwardly to the ice and then cradling his arm before exiting with a trainer. It looked bad, this “upper-body injury” as it’s termed in that usually silly NHL way.
Then those of us on the Bulls’ media list received the following news shortly thereafter, at 9:38 PM: “Derrick Rose reported today with right knee pain. An exam and subsequent MRI confirmed a medial meniscus tear of the right knee. Surgery will be scheduled, after which a timeline for his return will be determined.”
Rose had played the night before, with no apparent issues other than being unable to make a two-point shot. He had arrived at practice, but coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose was limited due to “general lower-body soreness,” channeling his inner hockey coach. As it turned out, though, the soreness was all too specific – in the same knee as the last meniscus tear.
Both the ‘Hawks and Bulls were contenders before last night, despite battling similar midseason lulls and reasonable questions about their respective title trajectories. Now it’s time for fans to recalibrate expectations.
Kane’s status should become clearer later today, but it appears he will be out well into the playoffs. He was tied for the league scoring lead with 27 goals and 37 assists, but more significant is the fact that he was 15 points ahead of Jonathan Toews, the team’s next best scorer. Kane’s puck-handling, vision and passing are irreplaceable, as is his role as a primary catalyst on the power play.
The Blackhawks will be in the playoffs and are deep enough to sustain competence until Kane’s return. Already heading toward the trading deadline looking to bolster their defense, GM Stan Bowman could now have to be more open-minded about navigating the salary cap to also find another scorer for his roster.
Rose, meanwhile, now must make the same decision he did in November of 2013 – to either remove or repair the damaged cartilage in his knee. The former means a quicker return and iffier long-term prognosis, the latter an extended recovery with a better outlook down the road. Conservative to a fault when it comes to protecting and preserving his body — ironic as that has become — Rose’s season could be over regardless of his choice.
That would mean the try-hard Bulls are back again, riding the hot hand of Aaron Brooks like they did so many other undersized streak-shooters. The problem with that plan now, is that the addition of Pau Gasol has compromised the defense that once underpinned their nightly effort to out-work more talented opponents.
What’s more, Rose was already so inconsistent that critical observers had begun to question the Bulls’ ability to win anything important. His game turned into a weird amalgam of contested, mostly missed three-point attempts and occasional, half-hearted forays to the basket that finished with contorted scoops instead of hammer-blows to the rim.
And even at the peak of his powers, Rose as league MVP was dismissed easily by the bigger, badder LeBron James. This injury may merely serve to douse the last bit of fantasy regarding the Bulls hanging another banner anytime soon.
It also will exacerbate tension between Thibodeau and his bosses, who have been rankled by communication problems with him about playing time and rest for material players over the course of a season. Rose was still on the floor near the end of that blowout of the Bucks two nights ago, and even if the coach isn’t directly responsible for another setback, it’s a good bet to be another negative on Thibodeau’s ledger in the minds of VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman.
One night, and two stars dim.
For sports fans in Chicago, an upper-body injury and a lower-body injury combine to be one swift blow to the midsection.