At some point – and we already might have passed that point – Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls essentially have this comeback business decided for them.
Not by Rose’s physical recovery from ACL surgery on his left knee. Not by the Bulls’ level of play and quality of supporting cast, as suggested by Rose’s brother Reggie last month. Not by any psychological trepidation that might linger longer than physiological concerns or by a bit of hurried bravado from Rose in trying to demonstrate that trepidation doesn’t exist.
No, the prospects of Rose coming back to the Bulls for any part of the 2012-13 NBA season will be dictated by the calendar and the schedule.
And since we all just lost an hour last night, the deadline leapt a little closer.
Let’s break this down in bite-size pieces, taking a look at just how much of the remaining regular season Rose might need to make a spring return, rather than something next fall, worth everyone’s while.
- 0-5 games: Now that would just be silly. If Rose were to come back that late – with a week or less left in the season – he wouldn’t have time to flake off the inevitable rust of what would be a 50-week layoff. His and the team’s agenda would be so out of whack as to undermine each other. Make no mistake, Rose’s return will be disruptive to the Bulls both on and off the court, whenever it happens. They need to get it under control and mostly tucked away before (or after) they’re all counting losses four at a time.
- 6-10 games: Still wouldn’t seem to be nearly enough for the former All-Star point guard to cope with, then extend the minutes leash he’ll be on for some time upon his return. Chicago’s offense would be jammed onto a learning curve, no matter how many times the Bulls claim they’re playing the same way with Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinirch or whomever running the point. Also, a 10-game project would put Rose’s announced return on or near April 1, which could heighten rather than alleviate the disbelief.
- 11-15 games: Coming back on March 23 against Indiana at United Center would give Rose exactly four weeks until the first weekend of the playoffs. That would provide him and his teammates with 15 games to get reacquainted on the court. Careful with that number, though – it has special significance around the Bulls. When Michael Jordan came back in his second season from a broken foot, he did so with 15 games to go. Chicago went 6-9 as their young star strained at his own minutes limit, but it still made the playoffs, where Jordan scored a breathtaking 63 points in Game 2 of the three-and-out first round against Boston. There might be too much mythology around 15 for Rose or the Bulls to flirt with that.
- 16-20 games: Oops, too late for the max anyway. Assuming Rose doesn’t make a Willis Reed-like surprise appearance Sunday afternoon, when the Bulls face the Lakers at Staples Center on ABC, there will be only 19 games left by the time they play at Sacramento Wednesday. A weeknight game against the lowly Kings, with a 10 o’clock ET tipoff from the West Coast and only League Pass beaming the game beyond Sacramento’s and Chicago’s usual viewing audience? That seems pretty Tom Thibodeau-friendly for Rose to dip his toe into the playing waters.
Unless it happens Friday at Golden State. Or on the Bulls’ three-game homestand that follows. Or, of course, not at all.
When Reggie Rose muddied the water of his brother’s comeback with his criticism of Bulls management after the NBA trade deadline, Derrick’s physical and even mental return no longer were the sole determinants of his comeback. And once ESPNChicago.com went big with a “team source” announcing (even though it had been implicit in his return to 5-on-5 practicing) that Rose had been cleared medically – as in, officially deemed to not be at risk of re-injury – the Bulls, admit it or not, put pressure on their franchise guy. Pressure to not look scared, to not be a perfectionist about his early-return performances and to not appear to be assessing the club’s playoff chances, rather than concentrating solely on his knee and game.
Now there’s added pressure, from the calendar.