DEERFIELD, Ill. – Derrick Rose’s back.
And the Chicago Bulls have it.
Rose participated in the Bulls’ Media Day Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility, coming out in his home whites same as last year. Only then, he was a hardwood version of Punxsutawney Phil – that was the last anyone saw of him in uniform for a full year, until he popped out again Friday, his rehab from left knee surgery lingering through the entire 2012-13 schedule and postseason.
While Rose’s game was warehoused, his reputation took a hit – the Bulls and the medical experts had talked of a return in “eight to 10 months,” which would have had back in the lineup sometime around the All-Star break, supposedly by March. When that didn’t happen – when the organization still was playing the will-he-or-won’t-he game into the Eastern Conference semifinals against Miami – some in the public questioned his commitment, his courage, you name it.
Rose knew it. His teammates and coaches knew it. None of them wavered in their belief in the 2011 MVP and his timeline, and they met it head-on Friday.
“People are going to have their opinions,” Rose told NBA TV. “There’s nothing I can do about that. For me, all I had to do was worry about my injury and worry about my health. Of course I could have came back, but if I would have came back and I wasn’t the same player, they would have been talking even [worse] about me.
“Getting back to my old self was my biggest concern. So I had to think about myself and kind of be selfish with it.”
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was even more direct. “The people that criticized him, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” he said.
As badly as Thibodeau missed having his All-Star point guard, as much scrambling as he had to do with the Bulls’ game plan to use Nate Robinson as Rose’s surrogate, he stuck with the company line that was set by team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who made it clear they all would err on the side of caution – and delay – in Rose’s comeback.
“Jerry made it clear he did not want him coming back until he was completely healthy, 100 percent,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s exactly what he did. He kept pushing and pushing but he never felt comfortable enough to play at the level he wanted to play at.
“Then when you look at who Derrick is as a person, there’s not a more loyal, hard working, team-first guy out there. For him to take that criticism on, I think was unfair. It was a tough decision he had to make but it was the right decision.”
Said forward Luol Deng: “The whole year, I knew how bad he wanted to play. So I never questioned it, when he made his decision on [not] coming back. I knew that he would know before anyone when he was ready.”
The difference in Rose, from other ACL patients such as Ricky Rubio or Iman Shumpert, was his reliance on explosion, torque and cutting. “Could he play in a game? Well, maybe,” Thibodeau said. “But he couldn’t play the way he likes to play. And the way he’s capable of playing. His game is very different. Very explosive. Change of directions, things of that nature.”
The Bulls begin two-a-day sessions Saturday. No one – not Rose, Thibodeau, general manager Gar Forman or anyone else – has specified a minutes limit for him in practice or in games.
The games, of course, will be the real test. Rose practiced with the Bulls since early last winter, so when Chicago faces Indiana Saturday night at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the most closely watched comebacks in the NBA this season will meet its first hurdle.
“My knee is good,” Rose said. “My confidence is steadily growing in my knee. I don’t have any worries at all. When I’m practicing, I’m reacting instead of thinking. Anyone who’s had these injuries would know you want to react instead of think while you’re on the court. So I’m feeling good.”
In a sense, Rose is in a no-lose situation: If he returns like his old self, people will argue that his decision to wait through the summer – and his annual tune-ups in Los Angeles – was the right strategy. If he shows rust or has off-nights – as most who return from his particular injury do – folks can say, “See, how could he have come back in the playoffs?”
But there will be no rust, if Rose has his way.
“[Doctors have] said it, but at the same time, I have confidence in myself,” he said. “I know what type of player I am. I know how my training has been. For me going out there to play, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I believe in myself.”