“I just saw him like 4-5 days ago, we were talking in the training room (at the Berto Center),” Hamilton said. “He’s in good spirits. He knows it’s going to be a process.
“But it’s hard for everybody right now, especially us. Just that the season is still going on, there are still teams playing. That’s the hardest part for everybody.”
Many expected the Bulls to be one of those teams, especially after posting the best regular-season record for the second year in a row. But instead of a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals against rival Miami Heat, Rose went down late in Game 1 of the quarterfinals against the Philadelphia 76ers with a torn ACL. The Bulls lost in six, and the Sixers then lost to the Celtics in seven.
“For me, and I know for my teammates, it’s hard, because our goal was to win a world championship, and we thought this could have been the year,” Hamilton said. “You really can’t take anything away from Boston, or Miami, because those guys have been great for a long time and they deserve to be where they’re at right now.
“For us, it’s just like, man, we’ve been dealing with adversity all season long, and to have to go through it the first game with two minutes left to go in the game was tough, but we don’t want to make any excuses. We just want to make next year hopefully a better year.”
But Rose’s recovery could take from 8-12 months, according to his doctor, which means he could miss all of next season. Some believe the Bulls could become a lottery team if Rose misses the entire season.
“I like our chances (of winning),” Hamilton said. “As players we hope and pray that he’s back, because he makes everybody’s job that much easier. But I feel as though if he doesn’t, it will be our job to hold things down until he does come back.
“He’ll bounce back real quick.”
And when he does come back, will Rose be the same slashing point guard who battled an assortment of injuries at the young age of 23? Or will he change his game?
“I think he’ll start to change when he gets in his 30s, when he feels as though he doesn’t want to take as many hits,” Hamilton said. “Because even for myself when I came in the league (in 1999 with the Washington Wizards) I had Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland as veterans to me, and they used to always tell me, ‘Hey Rip, you can’t fall on the floor every time you come down the court. That’s going to catch up.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m young,’ I didn’t care. I take a hit, I get back up.
“But by the time I got to 28, 29, I was starting to feel those hits and understand what they were talking about. Like any young kid, as you get older, you know when to take hits and know when not to take hits.”
Hamilton has shared that veteran advice with Rose.
“Yeah, we talk all the time,” he said. “We talked before the injury, we talked after the injury, just on different ways where you don’t have to take as many hits and save yourself to where you know you’re going to take a hit.”
With the possibility that Luol Deng will have to undergo wrist surgery and could miss the beginning of next season, the Bulls are facing a very uncertain first part of the season. But the depth the team showed while Rose, Hamilton and Deng battled injuries gives Hamilton optimism that the team doesn’t need someone as a quick fix.
“I’m very comfortable with the team,” he said. “Guys stepped up all season long and were able to maintain the ship. C.J. (Watson) stepped up, John Lucas, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, everybody stepped up. That was key to our season. That’s why everybody thought we were going to win it, because of our depth.
“So hopefully they keep us all intact and we come back ready next year.”
Roman Modrowski is an editor for ESPNChicago.com.
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