DEERFIELD, Ill. – The timing was impeccable. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said for the third or fourth time that guard Kirk Hinrich‘s bruised left calf was healing, Hinrich emerged for a cluster of reporters to limp 20 yards toward the locker-room hallway at the team’s Berto Center practice facility Wednesday afternoon.
Long John Silver, Fred Sanford and Jabba The Hutt would have been glancing over their shoulders, laughing, in a foot race. If the Brooklyn Nets have anyone on their bench with whom Hinrich in his current condition can keep up in Game 6, it’s coach P.J. Carlesimo. Maybe.
So it’s a long shot Hinrich — who injured his leg in Chicago’s triple-overtime victory in Game 4 Saturday and sat out the Nets’ Game 5 victory at the Barclays Center Monday — can play Thursday night at United Center. He only ditched a walking boot Wednesday, has yet to test his left leg by running or jumping and said he would have to improve further for his “game-time decision” to go thumbs-up.
That puts instant-offense guy Nate Robinson, the team’s third preferred option at point guard after Derrick Rose and Hinrich, in the likely starter’s role again.
Thibodeau also delivered the news that forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson were sick and skipped the practice, further thinning the ranks if only for Wednesday. He didn’t sound optimistic about rusty veteran Rip Hamilton, who hasn’t played since the series’ opener, making an appearance in Game 6, though.
So naturally, it was time to ask about Rose. Hey, he’s moving way better than Hinrich.
“There’s always a chance,” Thibodeau said straight-faced. Then a twinkle appeared in his eyes for what would be a fresh quote on the stale subject. “Small as that might be.”
Chuckles all around. But it scarcely could get smaller at this late date. Rose — whose ACL surgery on his left knee know requires a year reference (April 28, 2012) — still hasn’t felt comfortable enough in his recovery, apparently less for physical reasons than trust and confidence in his game, to return. To do so suddenly for Game 6 or even if his teammates advance to the next round against Miami would be like turning from a standing stop onto a freeway where every other vehicle is going 80 mph, no merge lane, nothing.
That hasn’t stifled impatience and criticism from within the team’s fan base, which has watched a parade of other players — from Hinrich throughout the season and Gibson (strained knee) to center Joakim Noah‘s ongoing plantar fasciitis — gut through discomfort while less than 100 percent.
Thibodeau and Hinrich both said again that the Bulls have Rose’s back.
“We know what kind of guy he is, we know what kind of teammate he is. We don’t feel that way,” Hinrich said. “I haven’t heard one ill word said [among teammates] about it.”
Said Thibodeau: “There’s a big difference between the type of injury he’s had and all these other injuries. We certainly appreciate what all the other guys are doing. But Derrick has had a very serious injury. It requires time. He’s 24 years old. We’re not going to rush him back. When he’s completely comfortable, that’s when we want him out there. If that means we wait another game, if that means we wait till next year, so be it. We want him completely comfortable. We’re not going to make that mistake.”
Criticism from outside of Chicago tossed at its native son, one of the most competitive and popular performers ever for the city’s pro sports teams, means nothing, the Bulls coach said.
“Derrick owes it to do what’s right. And the more I’m around him, the more I’m impressed by this guys’ character. He’s not being swayed by anybody. He’s not quite there, and we made that clear to him from the beginning — we’re going to support him in every way possible. I would never question him. Ever.”