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Bulls are missing more than just Derrick Rose

Injured Bulls guard Derrick Rose watches his shot during his pre-game work out before Chicago Bulls play ClevelCavaliers Tuesday February

Injured Bulls guard Derrick Rose watches his shot during his pre-game work out before the Chicago Bulls play the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday February 26, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 27, 2013 1:33PM



This is not what Bulls vice president John Paxson had in mind.

You make plans, you understand there is change, uncertainty in everything. You try to consider those things, factor them in. But you don’t expect this.

This is a Bulls team that is a patched-together mess.

Its only identity seems to be its strong-willed, demanding coach and the dark vacuum created by Derrick Rose’s absence.

Oh, and injuries.

There in the weight room at the United Center, two hours before the Cavaliers game, sat forward Taj Gibson. He was on the floor doing exercises with a trainer, rehabbing his just-injured knee.

Point guard Kirk Hinrich started the game, but he had missed 10 of the previous 11 games with a stitched-together, infected right elbow, one that needed surgery to remove the wounded bursa sac. Hit the joint hard one more time, and the stitches might split apart, as they already had. Keep messing with it, and — who knows? — Captain Kirk might join Rose on the Where-is-he? list.

Rose.

It starts with him. Paxson took the Chicago phenom with the first pick in the 2008 draft.

Seems like a no-brainer now. But you’ll recall there were people yelling for 6-10 Michael Beasley, who averaged 26.2 points for Kansas State. There were other hot prospects coming out then, too: O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert.

But Pax always wanted Rose. The guard would be the cornerstone from which the building blocks would spread.

‘‘That summer of 2010, we thought we had a good plan,’’ said Paxson, seated courtside before the game, watching players warm up. ‘‘A lot of people said it wasn’t. There are always debates. That was a big free-agent year. [The Bulls signed big men Carlos Boozer, Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas.] The fact is, we went out that year and won 62 games.

‘‘We liked the way we played together. We liked Tom [Thibodeau]on the sideline, liked how he directed the team, liked how he got us to play at a high level.’’

That season, the Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference finals, and Rose would be named the MVP of the league. Not only was he only the second Bull to earn the award, he was the youngest NBA player to win it. Talk about a future.

And then?

‘‘The next year, there was no continuity, none to the season,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘There was the lockout, and even though we won a lot of games [50 out of 66], we didn’t play nearly as well as before. Obviously, there was a new collective-bargaining agreement with new terms, and we had to make changes.’’

Precisely, they had to break up the ‘‘Bench Mob’’ and send effective subs Asik and Kyle Korver packing. That was not part of the plan. But then, other teams were hit by the change, too. Paxson watches Marco Belinelli, one of the new guys this season, shoot 18-footers. He halfway shrugs.

Last year, Rose blew out his ACL in the playoffs, and the plan went completely off course.

‘‘The most important thing is health,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘Keep the pieces together and be healthy together. Think of Taj Gibson right now.’’

And, of course, Rose, who hasn’t played in 10 months and may yet be scratched for the season. What do you do when you lose an MVP-caliber player? What would the Heat do without LeBron James? But then, at some point it’s just excuses.

Plans don’t come with guarantees, only hope.

‘‘People have been on us for a while, and rightly so — because they want us to find another star to go with Rose,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘We always are trying to do that. But, that said, one year the Pistons won a championship without a superstar, but they had a great team that played well together.’’

True, true.

But the superstar to go with Rose is almost a comical problem when Rose himself looks tentative and unclear in his own mind as to when he’ll be back. And in what condition.

‘‘Our whole goal is to get Derrick back healthy,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘He’s gotta feel that he can get out there on the basketball court and be consistent every night himself. You hope that it makes him stronger.’’

Paxson finished with a tale about how, oddly enough, he was signed as a Bulls free agent on the very day Michael Jordan broke his foot during the 1985-86 season.

‘‘I was flying into Los Angeles, where the Bulls were playing the Clippers, and Michael was flying out,’’ he said.

It was not a plan but a coincidence. Paxson laughed.

There’s nobody flying in or out for the Bulls these days.



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