After that long, excruciating wait for Derrick Rose to recover from ACL surgery, "The Return" was only a cruel tease.
Twelve games into his comeback season, Rose is done. He had surgery to repair torn medial meniscus cartilage in his right knee Monday morning and was declared out for the season.
The plan was to reattach the cartilage, which should lead to better long-term results but carries a recovery time of about six months.
The injury occurred during the third quarter of Friday's loss at Portland, the knee buckling when Rose tried to stop quickly. Bulls general manager Gar Forman talked about the surgery with bulls.com.
"This was the best procedure for Derrick's long-term health," Forman said. "The decision had been made to repair it if possible. Once the surgeons saw how good the tissue looked, they stayed with that option."
On its own, this injury is a minor setback, far less serious than the torn ACL in his left knee suffered in 2012. But with one knee injury coming so quickly after the other, there's no telling what's in store for Rose's career.
Maybe someday he will resemble something close to his MVP form of 2010-11. He turned 25 in October, so there's plenty of time to put these knee problems in his past.
But there's also concern that Rose's style of play is simply unsustainable. He's a 6-foot-2 guard who made a living taking on the giants, through fearless drives around and over defenders waiting to stop him. Rose's style during his first three years was too spectacular to continue.
There is concern these repeated knee issues could lead to early retirement, much like former Portland star Brandon Roy. But the slow recovery from ACL surgery and taking the time to reattach meniscus cartilage shouldn't lead to any long-term problems for Rose. He may never be the same, but he might return to an all-star level.
This injury is heartbreaking for the Bulls, though, because they built a team that seemed ready to challenge Miami for the Eastern Conference title. They lost the first meeting in 2011, when Rose was just 22 and making his first extended run through the playoffs.
Now for the third straight year, a true rematch with a healthy Rose will not happen. Another potential roadblock in Miami's path has been removed.
Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf shared his thoughts in a statement.
"Like Bulls fans everywhere, I was heartbroken when I heard of Derrick's injury," it read. "We are happy to know that, according to his doctors, his surgery was successful, and in time, Derrick is expected to make a full recovery.
"Despite Derrick's absence, this is still a good team. I know from last year, this team and coaching staff will continue to make our fans proud."
The Bulls might be able to hang tough without Rose and challenge for one of the lower playoff spots. But why bother?
The nucleus of Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah will not challenge for an NBA title, so the Bulls might as well get to work on the next version of the team.
Boozer might be untradeable because of the $16.8 million left on his contract. The Bulls can, and probably will, use the amnesty clause next summer.
If the Bulls can move Deng, who's in the final year of his contract, they probably will. Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed and anyone else not in the long-term plan also might depart, in order to help ensure the Bulls miss the playoffs and land in the draft lottery.
Noah is seen as a long-term piece, but he also has strong trade value, so no move is out of the question. Forman was noncommittal Monday.
"Everything we do is geared toward winning a championship, and we will continue to evaluate any moves that will help us in attaining that goal," Forman told bulls.com.
"We're not going to make any rash decisions. We feel there is a bright future ahead and we believe we are positioned well. Look, we fully expect Derrick to come back 100 percent for next season. This basically was a freak injury."
On the positive side, the Bulls do have two all-stars in Deng and Noah. They will get a first-round pick from Charlotte in the next three years and own the rights to rising European star Nikola Mirotic.
But the Bulls need to loosen their high payroll before rebuilding.
When he signed a contract extension in 2011, Rose qualified for the newly-negotiated high-level maximum salary, because he won an MVP award in his first three seasons. So not only has Rose missed a ton of time, he's being paid $17.6 million, $18.9 m, $20.1 m and $21.3 m through 2017.
Even if the Bulls didn't re-sign Deng and amnestied Boozer, they wouldn't be able to sign a maximum-salary free agent without additional moves. The Bulls could choose to let Deng play out the season and walk away in free agency so they don't have to take salary back in a trade.
Any way you look at it, this is sad news for Rose and effectively the end of this Bulls team as we know it.
•Follow Mike's reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls.