Roundtable: What to expect from players on a comeback in 2012-13
Entering the season, several stars are already banged up, including Derrick Rose
Bulls proved they could compete without Rose, but it'll still be a long season
Also: Concern for Dwight Howard's back?; Can Brandon Roy regain his form?
SI.com NBA writers Paul Forrester, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix and Ian Thomsen break down the players on the mend in advance of the 2012-13 season.
Ian Thomsen: I don't see how Chicago can get anything done without Rose. Not only is he the team's top scorer and playmaker, but he's also its leader. Along with Rose's absence, the offseason losses of C.J. Watson, Omer Asik and John Lucas are going to hurt the Bulls in terms of talent as well as attitude. I just don't know how they're going to score as long as Rose is sidelined. Who will create the easy shots for teammates? The good news is that they've extended Tom Thibodeau's contract, because the worst thing would have been to enter the next few unstable months with a coach in his outgoing year. At least now there will be reason to believe that the Bulls can get back to normal whenever Rose does come back. Until that day comes, however, this team could be ugly.
Lee Jenkins: Rose means everything to the Bulls, who play so many tight games and depend on him to rescue them at the end. The Bulls often struggle to score even with Rose, so without him, they go from a team eyeing a championship to one that will have a hard time earning home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls need to tread water for the first three months, leaning on their defense, in hopes that Rose returns around the All-Star break and makes them a threat in the postseason.
Chris Mannix: The Bulls proved last season they can still be a very good team without Rose -- just not an elite one. Even if Rose makes it back this season, he's going to need time to strengthen and develop confidence in his knee, get his timing and shake off the rust. This won't be a transition year for the Bulls -- Kirk Hinrich is a credible replacement and the defense will once again rank among the best -- but Rose's injury means it won't be a year they compete for a championship, either.
Paul Forrester: The Bulls. Howard's potential absence would mean more work for All-Star big man Pau Gasol. Wade's inability to take the floor would mean more work for MVP LeBron James. Rose's injury leaves the ball in the hands of Kirk Hinrich, the same Kirk Hinrich who has shot less than 43 percent for his career. Though the Bulls went 18-9 in the regular season last year without Rose, their offense lost about four points per game and their shooting percentage dropped about two points. That makes a difference in games against the Celtics and Pacers and Heat. Rose is expected back by the playoffs but it would be asking a lot of the former MVP to return as good as new after a year away, and that's to say nothing of the transition the team would have to undergo to incorporate Rose at the toughest time of year. Wall's absence will take a heavy toll on the Wizards, but a fall from bad to horrible carries a lot smaller impact than a fall from title contender to potential first-round loser.
Thomsen: Of course they should be concerned, especially for the longterm. The Lakers are going to be extremely cautious with Howard to not only protect their hopes of building a new generation around him after Kobe Bryant retires, but also because he's going to be a free agent who could decide to leave next summer if he doesn't trust the organization.
Will he be dealing with back issues for the rest of his career? No one can predict that one. The good news for their fans is that the Lakers will be approaching this issue soberly, and there should be no pressure from the organization for him to rush back or to play through a recurrence of the injury. (Of course some fans may want him to play through the injury! Let's face it, they're going to worry no matter what.)
Jenkins: Howard hasn't played in a preseason game yet, but he's doing everything else and has looked promising. Even if he sits Opening Night, the Lakers can survive with Pau Gasol at center, and they don't expect Howard to miss an extended period. The biggest problem for the Lakers will be finding a rhythm and identity on offense without Howard being part of it. They need him on the floor, not just to win, but to suffer through the inevitable growing pains before the meat of the schedule.
Mannix: It's a legitimate concern. Granted, Howard has age (26) and a history of good health on his side, but back injuries are notoriously unpredictable. And we're talking about a big man: When Howard posts up, he is going to have strong, 250-pound plus centers leaning, bumping and digging forearms right on that surgically repaired area. With free agency beckoning next summer, Howard isn't going to do anything to jeopardize his longterm health.
Forrester: With the veteran pressure Kobe Bryant is sure to bring, Howard should have all the incentive he needs to return, and at a level that reminds everyone why he's the best center in the game today. And even if Howard missed the entire regular season, the Lakers have enough to get to the playoffs, where Howard's presence would be needed to get past the likes of the Spurs, Thunder or perhaps Heat.
Thomsen: Wouldn't it be terrific if he did? He was in severe pain and very often limited by his knees, and it's not as if these injuries came as a surprise. When he was drafted in 2006, several teams refused to pick him because doctors predicted that bad knees would limit his career. As always, he's going to be competing at both ends against the best athletes on the wing, so it's not as if he'll be able to hide a loss of athleticism. I hope he is able to recover his old form, because at his best he was one of the most inspiring players in the NBA. And yet I'll be extremely surprised if we see a full season from the old Brandon Roy ever again.
Jenkins: Roy will not be an All-Star, but he will be able to score on the wing for the Timberwolves, which was a trouble spot for the team last season. He will also be an exceptional leader and locker-room presence for a young team that is accustomed to losing and collapsed in the second half. Assuming Roy recaptures a sliver of his old form, and Ricky Rubio is at full strength by New Year's, I think the T'wolves will make the playoffs.
Mannix: While I'll reserve judgment on whether Roy's knees can hold up -- if there was a chance of that, why would Portland let a player of Roy's caliber go? -- if he is healthy, he's a stud. At his best, Roy is a slippery scorer comfortable taking big shots. He would take pressure off Kevin Love, give Ricky Rubio another shooter to pass to and diversify Rick Adelman's offense with his talent. I think Minnesota is going to make the playoffs, with or without Roy. But if he's close to the player he was in Portland, they could win a round once they get there.
Forrester: Assuming he can he play for more than a few token minutes here and there, Roy's contributions will be streaky. There's a lot of rust to shake off and an oft-injured set of knees to navigate around. Still, shooters don't forget that muscle memory, and the Timberwolves can probably pencil in a few quarters where Roy carries them with his scoring alone. If the Wolves are smart, they'll limit his minutes, saving him for a crucial role in the playoffs, should they reach them. Roy's flashes of past greatness can help the Timberwolves in their share of tight games, but a return to the past is, well, past.