The Eastern Conference playoff picture shuddered a little bit late Wednesday night, and it had nothing to do with the final horns or scoreboards from games played in Boston, Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Detroit or even Cleveland.
Derrick Rose opened the door to doubts after the Chicago Bulls’ loss to the Celtics at TD Garden. Doubts about the condition of his leg, doubts about his return date, doubts as to whether the Bulls and the NBA will see him back at all in 2012-13.
Speaking with traveling beat writers for the first time since training camp, Rose made it sound as if his prospects for returning – next week, next month or at all over the regular season’s final two months – still are largely unknown. He made it clear that he would have the final say but then sounded almost at peace with the possibility of not playing again until October.
“I really don’t know,” Rose said when asked about his timeline to return. “I’m feeling good, but if it was to where it’s taking me a long time and I’m still not feeling right, I won’t mind missing this year.”
This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, at least around Chicago, which presumed Rose to be on or ahead of schedule and straining at a management-and doctor-held leash to get back in the lineup and boost the Bulls’ toward a postseason run. The NBA’s MVP in 2011 said early in the four-minute interview that he had experienced no setbacks in his regimen and recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament last May 12. But moments later he acknowledged “my leg still isn’t feeling right.” And despite some locker room chatter to the contrary in recent weeks, Rose said that he still cannot dunk.
So as much as he would like to be back on the floor yesterday, playing with abandon at United Center and shaking rust off his assorted skills, the 24-year-old native of Chicago’s South Side seemed at peace with a long view. While Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been preaching patience to anyone who has asked, Rose now sounds like he’s urging a little caution.
“I would love to [play],” he said. “That’s why I pushed my rehab and my workouts so hard. I’m trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible. But if I have anything lingering on, there’s no point.”
This has to feel like a bucket of cold water for Bulls fans. Many had pointed to All-Star Weekend as the end of Rose’s injury exile, their hopes high that he would be back when the team reconvened after the break. Others circled the end of February or sometime in March. Now they’re learning that the correct answer might be d) None of the above.
Rose played in only 39 of Chicago’s games last season, missing 27 in the post-lockout schedule with a variety of ailments. Then he blew out his left ACL late in Game 1 of the first-round series against Philadelphia.
Despite the remarkable season of NFL MVP Adrian Peterson – the Minnesota Vikings running back rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012 in his first season back from ACL surgery – many consider the recovery to be a true two-year process from incident to full capabilities. It’s likely that Rose, whenever he does return, will have ups and downs in performance and pain.
Even that has been enough to excite Bulls fans, won over by Thibodeau’s defensive teachings and the team’s work ethic to the point that Rose at 80 or even 70 percent might seem enough to challenge Miami, Indiana or anyone else in the East.
But Rose at zero percent, in terms of being active, available and effective? Nah, not so much.
“It’s exciting to know that all my hard work is going to pay off one day,” he said last night. “I just don’t know when.”