When Rose returns, Bulls will be back to same killer problem

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Steve Rosenbloom on Derrick Rose being cleared for practice. (Posted: Jan 29, 2013)

It never should’ve been that difficult, but the Bulls finally put away the dogbreath Charlotte Bobcats at home Monday night.

At least they didn’t lose, right? The Bulls dumped a game to those Charlotte chumps at home earlier this season, and that has been part of their vexing stupidity of losing to bad teams, mostly at home, then beating Miami in Miami and Boston in Boston.

But Michael Jordan’s former team beat Michael Jordan’s current horrific team, and then you look up, and whoa, suddenly the Bulls are a power in the Eastern Conference. No lie. True fact.

The Bulls lead the Central Division. They stand just one game behind the Knicks for the second seed in the East. They woke up this morning just 2 1/2 games behind the defending champion Heat for the top spot in the conference, although I don’t think the Heat are trying that hard.

These Bulls still don’t have Derrick Rose, mind you, but yet, they own the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Here’s what that means: The NBA needs a new Eastern Conference. More on that later.

First, let me say some nice things about this Bulls team that tries so hard that you just want to pet it. These Rose-less Bulls are making a case for fundamental basketball. They are smart and selfless, give or take Nate Robinson.

They guard and rebound, even if it’s because they’re afraid that Tom Thibodeau will take a piece of paint off their backsides.

Joakim Noah earned that All-Star spot by adding some offensive moves to his relenetless defense and rebounding. Oh, and by the way, he might be the best passing center in the league.

You know who else is a terrific passer? Carlos Boozer, that’s who. Boozer also is having himself a throwback year. I mean, he’s dunking in the second half. This is what he did in Cleveland and Utah, but too often around here in clutch times he was either on the bench or about to be.

Jimmy Butler, come on down. The kid is playing shooting guard and small forward, and playing like Richard Hamilton is going to be waived when Rose comes back.

That, see, is what this season is all about: Waiting for Rose to come back for the playoffs.

Rose might be turned loose in practice by the end of this week, but look, the NBA regular season doesn’t matter. The Bulls proved that the last two seasons. That’s why it’s difficult to take these Bulls seriously. What matters is the combinations of superstars --- that’s plural --- and defense. That’s how you win championships.

I mean, did you people see Michael Jordan’s Bulls? They’re the same as LeBron James’ Heat. The same as Magic Johnson’s Lakers. Same as Larry Bird’s Celtics.

More than 30 years of evidence proves you win titles with superstars and defense. The Bulls have the defense part of the formula, although there’s doubt they can defend a superstar, particularly James, even as selfless and relentless as Luol Deng is.

Whatever the Bulls are doing now and however they’re doing it, you’d be wise to view it through the prism of June. What part of a championship do you see here?

Without Rose on the court, the correct answer is nope. Guess what else, Gar Forman? Even with Rose on the court, the answer is still nope.

Bulls management has yet to prove it can sell a superstar on joining the Bulls. Bulls management remains inept when it comes to bringing a superstar to the Uniter Center without benefit of a lucky Ping-Pong ball.

Winning titles takes at least two superstars --- like I said, plural --- and even that might not be enough. Isn’t that right, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?

That’s why I get this empty feeling watching the Bulls this season. The same problem that killed the Bulls before still exists, or at least it will when Rose comes back: No second superstar.

These Rose-less Bulls are alternately interesting and aggravating. Some players have grown their games. But none of them have grown up to be a superstar, to be that second superstar. Beep, beep. Drive home safely.

CHICAGO

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