Biggest news first: Derrick Rose participated in practice Sunday and if there's no setback Monday morning he'll be starting the 3pm contest that day. It's a weird start time (President's Day I guess?), and Sam Smith noted after the Saturday afternoon debacle against the Nets that they're now 1-4 in day games (and the 1 was that improbable comeback win against the Lakers on Christmas). But he also rightly points out that usually day games mean you're on national TV facing good teams. This time it's the Hawks, who aren't upper-echelon but a solid test even if Rose is back.
Nobody really has an answer for what happened in that Nets game, which seems appropriate. There had to be some effort issues, sure, but they were compounded by New Jersey's 3-point shooting whereas otherwise maybe the Bulls 2nd unit could've done their usual comeback magic. Deron Williams was able to dominate the game to where their lead was never in question, and a lot of the damage was done against CJ Watson, who continued his recent trend of bad performances.
CJ's not alone though, his backcourt-mate Ronnie Brewer scored 5 points in 27 minutes, and has averaged less than 6 points per game on 36.6% shooting in the 11 games since Rip Hamilton last started.
It's undoubtedly been a bad stretch for both, but they're bench players for a reason. I suppose there are some short-term fixes the Bulls can try. Thibodeau went outside of his comfort zone on Saturday and brought in Jimmy Butler first off the bench. Mike James also appeared ahead of John Lucas in the game (and were unfortunately tried together), but James will probably be cut again once Rose is re-established. The only practical sustainable fix is just waiting and getting healthy, and figuring Watson and Brewer will settle back to their norms when in their usual roles.
It's a concern that even that isn't quite enough (and how the Bulls frontcourt performed in that game leads to another story...and are you paying attention to what the Heat have been doing lately?), but there's no need to urgently press Rose back into action, as Nick Friedell strangely speculates at ESPNChicago. KC Johnson got in a dig at the concept of resting Rose based on opponent, but the failing of the Bulls in playing Rose in that Hornets game wasn't because of the opponent, it was because Rose wasn't healthy. And though the Nets loss does give Thibs ammo in his mantra that opponent doesn't matter, and I hope this anecdote from Mike McGraw was part of some post-game tirade by Thibs to that effect (because it's funnier to imagine that way), let's all agree that maybe it's not the opponent but merely the fact that it's still the regular season that makes it to where the Bulls should side with caution.
They're certainly doing that with Rip Hamilton, to where the consensus seems to be he won't be returning until after the All-Star break. In the wake of some recently-poor performances by the Bulls, it's tantalizing to focus instead on what may be with a full starting lineup, as Sam Smith did in this piece about their passing acumen. But while there's certainly time, Steve Aschburner at NBA.com notes that the Bulls really don't know what they have with Rip, who was signed on to be the difference this season.
More time for Jimmy Butler or Mike James wouldn't be that difference. The veteran free-agents now and in buyout season likely will choose destinations with more playing time, as J.R. Smith did with the Knicks. Or they're players not good enough to supplant a member of the Bulls 2nd unit even when they're struggling. Of course, hindsight on other options from the offseason shows disappointment all around, like Tracy McGrady with the incoming Atlanta Hawks. But at least, unlike Rip, they're playing.
The bench mob is a formidable asset and has kept the Bulls at a very nice record. But they've also shown to have their appropriate limitations, so getting Rip and Rose right is what can get this team back to great.