Impact of Derrick Rose's absence

When Derrick Rose returns to the Chicago Bulls' lineup, how much will his teammates have left? AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

The return date of Derrick Rose is lurking out there somewhere. We don't know when it is -- and he probably doesn't know either -- but Rose is working his way back from last spring's catastrophic knee injury day by day. He's practicing with the Chicago Bulls and traveling with the team on most road trips. What little news has leaked has been encouraging. Pretty much everybody assumes that at some point before the playoffs, Rose will be back at point guard for Chicago.

It would be disappointing if that didn't happen, because Rose's comeback has been the carrot at the end of Chicago's motivational stick, the glimmer of hope on the horizon for teammates and fans alike. The thinking since training camp has been that if Tom Thibodeau could just keep his team hovering around the playoff race, then Rose would come back, reacclimate to his teammates and the grind of NBA basketball and spearhead a playoff push for a team rounding into form at just the right time. There are a lot of moving parts to that scenario, but it's the one that has sustained the Bulls all season.

Most questions regarding the Bulls have revolved around the uncertainty over just how effective Rose will be when he returns. As one of the game's most dynamic and explosive athletes, will it be a diminished Rose we see in March, April or whenever he returns? How long will it take him to get back to full strength? It's natural to wonder about these things, but here's another thing to worry about: What will Rose's teammates have left by the time he gets back?

Thibodeau has succeeded in keeping the Bulls in the thick of the race in the East, but sometimes his squad has looked like they are playing with anvils tied to the bottom of their sneakers. This problem hits all NBA teams at times during the regular season, but it's been a more consistent malady for Chicago during the 2012-13 season.