LOS ANGELES — Derrick Rose had so looked forward to the warm embrace that awaited him on Sunday.
With friends and family looking on from where he makes his offseason home, Rose was scheduled to play the Clippers in a matinee at the Staples Center. That's mere miles from where he spent so many grueling hours rehabilitating his torn left anterior cruciate ligament over many of the previous 19 months.
Instead, Rose was headed back to Chicago on Sunday, facing more surgery early this week and uncertainty after an MRI exam confirmed a medial meniscus tear to his right knee. The Bulls said Rose will be sidelined indefinitely.
"It's a huge loss," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "Everything we do is built around him. Losing one of the best players in the league obviously changes the landscape of things. I just feel bad for him personally."
How long Rose is out won't be known until surgeons do their work. Estimates range from one month to six; that's how wide the disparity is.
According to sources who have discussed Rose's medical care, if merely an arthroscopic process is needed to "clean up" the injury, his absence would be on the shorter end of that spectrum. If the meniscus needs more extensive surgery to be reattached or repaired, Rose would be out longer and could miss the entire season.
Oklahoma City All-Star guard Russell Westbrook tore his right lateral meniscus last April and had it reattached. He missed the start of this season before returning, more than six months after the injury.
Sources said Rose likely will opt to have the meniscus reattached, which would be better for the long-term but sideline him longer. Team physician Brian Cole, who repaired Rose's left ACL, is the leading candidate to perform this surgery as well.
However long Rose is out, this latest setback again will test his mental and physical toughness. That's what suffering two significant knee injuries in such a short span does to a player whose game is so reliant on explosion and speed.
"I know how much work he has put into his rehab and the type of person and player he is," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So I feel for him because of all the things that he does and what they mean to our team."
Rose suffered the injury cutting on a non-contact play Friday night in Portland, Ore., and left the arena on crutches. Originally, team officials and teammates feared the worst-case scenario given that Rose is so recently removed from missing all of last season as he rehabilitated his surgically-repaired left knee.
But sources said Rose immediately told training staff personnel that Friday's injury felt differently from his torn ACL. Still, Rose knew he had suffered a significant injury and he shuffled to and from the shower in the postgame locker room on crutches.
According to two people who spoke with Rose on Saturday, he was relieved he hadn't torn another ACL but obviously was down about the latest setback.
While Rose's absence will add drama to the sputtering start the Bulls have experienced, particularly on top of the week-to-week loss of Jimmy Butler, it should avoid the career- and franchise-altering event of a second torn ACL.
Knowing Rose would return, management kept the 2013-14 Bulls intact for one, final championship run. Whether the reshaping of the roster, widely assumed to transpire next summer, will be accelerated could depend on for how long Rose is sidelined.
If Rose misses the remainder of the season, attempts to trade Luol Deng, who can walk as an unrestricted free agent next summer, could be accelerated.
This much is certain: The Bulls aren't a championship-caliber team without Rose. So well-versed to playing without him, all associated with the franchise understand what losing their star for any time means.
"Things like this have happened on this team the last five years I've been here," Taj Gibson said. "We have to push forward."
The news reverberated throughout the sports world, a testament to the brotherhood of athletes and Rose's popularity as a humble, hard-working superstar. Athletes from a wide variety of sports offered well-wishes for Rose's recovery on Twitter.
Speculative parallels immediately were drawn to former NBA star Penny Hardaway, whose injuries severely affected a once promising career. More locally, thoughts of the unrealized full potential of Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers and Cubs starters Mark Prior and Kerry Wood come to mind.
Can Rose overcome again?
Rose's return this season had sparked a flood of excitement. And though he showed signs of rust and struggled with shooting, he also had displayed flashes of his previous brilliance. He averaged 15.8 points in the Bulls' 6-5 start.
The Bulls played most of the shortened lockout season in 2011-12 without Rose as he battled through four separate injuries. Then came the opening game of the 2012 playoffs against the 76ers on April 28, when Rose jump-stopped on the United Center floor and crumpled out of sight for a full season.
Now, the Bulls face another road without their most dynamic star, but not one as long as originally feared.
"Guys just have to pick it up," Deng said. "Obviously, it'll be a setback not having him. But we've been there before. We just have to play together."
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