BROOKLYN – It doesn’t necessarily boost the likelihood that Chicago’s Derrick Rose will make a Clark Kent-to-Superman emergence in the 2013 NBA postseason (good luck to him finding a phone booth, first of all). But at least folks got an inkling Monday of why the Bulls would even consider that possibility.
Normally, the prospect of disrupting a team’s concentration and preparation to work back into the lineup a rusty, injury-rehabbed player would hold little or no appeal. Regardless of the guy’s skill level, he would overlay an individual agenda (minutes restrictions, inconsistent play) onto the team’s, almost necessarily leading to distractions and cross purposes.
But Tom Thibodeau has seen it happen before. In extreme close-up, in fact. Remember, Thibodeau is wrapping up only his third season as Bulls coach but he has been on the NBA scene for most of the past quarter century, stretching back to his arrival in 1989 as an assistant with the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves. So when he was asked prior to Game 2 of the Brooklyn-Chicago first-round series about his experiences with star players being sidelined by injuries at this least opportune time on the calendar, naturally Thibodeau had been there, seen that.
“When I was in Houston we dealt with Yao [Ming] missing good chunks of the season,” said Thibodeau, an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy on playoff teams in New York and Houston and to Doc Rivers in Boston. “In Boston we had a situation one year with [Kevin] Garnett where he got hurt in the first game after the All-Star break and we were hopeful that he would be able to come back and try and he was never able to do it.
“When I was in New York, Patrick [Ewing] missed a majority of the season; I think he got hurt in the 16th game of the year, early December, and he was able to come back during the playoffs. That experience taught me that it’s the right thing to do. So if Derrick can come back, we want him back.”
There it was. The Ewing Precedent.
In 1997-98, the New York Knicks’ Hall of Fame center suffered a lunate dislocation and torn ligaments in his right wrist. He apparently tried to play through it or perhaps the severity wasn’t fully known, but regardless, he and the Knicks shut down his season on Dec. 20.
His 26 games were the fewest he ever played in his 17-year career. Surgery and rehab followed, as Ewing labored in a grim hardwood edition of “Beat The Clock” to return before New York ran out of season or, at least, postseason.
As teammate Larry Johnson said during Ewing’s layoff, “I thought I was a hard worker, or claimed to be a hard worker, but I’m in there before practice and he looks like he’s already been there an hour. So if anyone can come back, he will.”
Ewing did. New York finished 43-39, then beat Miami 3-2 in the best-of-five first round. It dropped the opening game of the East semifinals series against Indiana on May 5, then brought Ewing back for Game 2, two nights later.
It didn’t go great: The 7-footer shot 3-for-11, scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in 27 minutes of an 85-77 loss. He averaged 35 minutes over the next three games, along with 15.3 points on 37.8 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 turnovers, and New York dropped two of those three to get eliminated.
But for Thibodeau, late was better than never. Which explains why Rose, coming up on the one-year anniversary (April 28) of his torn ACL knee ligament, continues to be listed by the Bulls as “day-to-day.”