Ten months to the day since Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose had the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, he said he physically is capable of playing again.
Mentally? That’s different.
Rose spoke with Bulls beat reporters Tuesday, their second consecutive off day in Los Angeles, prepping for their game at Sacramento Wednesday night. That wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal – except that the strategy of keeping him away from microphones and recorders since his devastating leg injury in Game 1 of the playoffs last spring is responsible for a lot of the recent and needless drama around the one-time MVP point guard.
Had Rose worked with the Bulls to provide brief, periodic updates – say, monthly – on his rehab, his physical progress and his feelings about it all, rumors and speculation wouldn’t have had any vacuum to fill. Fans and media would have heard Rose’s views on the Bulls’ exploits without him, and management’s roster-building, directly from him. The team wouldn’t have had to make it known – whether leaked or more innocently confirmed – via an unnamed source that Bulls medical personnel had signed off on the physical part of Rose’s recovery and that he was at no greater risk of re-injury than of the initial ACL tear.
Instead, Rose was kept at arm’s length from actual communication. A stray USA Today story bubbled up in February, followed a few days later by a frenzied, visitors dressing room huddle in Boston and, lately, a couple of quick chats relayed by network sideline reporters.
All those things did were arouse suspicions, dial up frustrations and muddy the uncertainty on all sides.
So this was better, this brief session in L.A. Even if the news was neutral at best.
Bottom line: Rose might feel ready, but that doesn’t mean he feels ready. This is about his head as much as his knee. As Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com reported:
“I think I can do everything, it’s just me having the confidence to do it,” Rose said before practice. “Just me feeling normal.”
Rose tore his ACL on April 28 and underwent surgery on May 12.
“I really don’t know [about a return this season],” Rose said. “I’m just like you all where I’m waiting till that day where I feel normal.
“Until then I would just wait. I haven’t had any pressure from the organization and no one else to push me to go out there and play. My teammates have been doing great with just playing hard for me. They’re still out there playing hard, fighting, so that’s a good sign and we’re winning games, so I’m not worried about anything right now.”
Rose also said there is no date beyond which he would consider it too late to return this season – which probably isn’t realistic, as we explained here. Anything that would leave too short of a runway before the postseason – for the Bulls and Rose to reacquaint fully – could end up as more of a distraction or disruption. Weighing that possible outcome against five or six more months of prep work, rust-flaking and trust-building in the knee, would seem an easy choice.
As for acknowledging that this now is a mental challenge, shame on anyone who translates that as some sort of weakness on Rose’s part. An athlete playing on instinct, with abandon, without undue concern for his fitness or limitations, is at the heart of sports’ appeal. Rose’s situation is complicated by the load he carried for Chicago prior to his injury, as their lone superstar and bailout player at crunch time.
Combine that with the fact that he never has had to be anything less than marvelous on a basketball court – never faced a minutes leash, never doubted his physical tools – and getting back to that confident place he needs to be is no small trek.
If the worst-case scenario for the Bulls and their fans, shaped by the rumors, was an unhappy and unrealistic Rose, intentionally holding back because he’s skeptical the team could go deep into the playoffs, the best-case scenario now appears to be: Rose coming off an exposure to Kryptonite, not quite able to summon his powers yet, feeling out of sync and maybe even, sincerely, a little scared.
Either of those could keep him out till October (which, had they staked out that likelihood from the start, would be going down fine now).
See how much better it is, though, with communication?