Derrick Rose’s return to action for the Chicago Bulls, one of the league’s compelling storylines as the 2013-14 season approaches, offered up its first plot twist Saturday.
Two weeks into the Bulls’ preseason grind of practices and games, Rose was held out against the Washington Wizards with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. The game’s setting – in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – merely added an exotic backdrop to what the team claimed was a precautionary, and not unexpected, move.
Never mind what Rose’s absence Saturday meant to the folks in Rio, one of the NBA’s global exhibitions and presumably a little more important than run-of-the-mill October games. What matters is how Rose, his knee and the team respond once they get back to work this week at their Berto Center practice facility in Chicago’s north suburbs.
GM Gar Forman was urging fans and media to remain calm, minimizing the “soreness” that apparently developed in Rose’s knee at practice Friday. Said Forman, as reported by K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s not a major red flag or a huge concern. He’s got some soreness and we wanted to be conservative with it at this point.”
Being conservative, though, is what has so many fans on high alert right now.
John Paxson, the team’s vice president of basketball operations, treated Saturday’s decision as standard operating procedure for any player returning from surgery as significant as Rose’s. Echoing what medical experts inside and outside the Bulls’ organization have said – there would be good nights, not-so-good nights, sore nights and rusty nights for Rose – Paxson said: “We never anticipated a straight line.”
That, of course, was one argument for having Rose return last March or April even if it didn’t translate into a title run: Work through those ups and downs and get them out of the way before the new season. But the All-Star point guard, his advisors and the team played it cautiously, pushing that necessary part of Rose’s return to now.
Here’s Paxson’s comment to the Tribune about that:
“It’s irrelevant. The decision was made to not play last year and now we’re going through this. Our goal is this season, the regular season and getting to the playoffs. Nobody said this was going to be a straight line. The only way we can get to where we want to go is in this case being cautious and letting him get through this.”
Through the Bulls’ first two preseason games, vs. Indiana and Memphis, Rose had averaged about 20 minutes and 13 points, playing three shifts nightly. He looked quick and confident in his knee, limited mostly by some timing, conditioning and rust issues.
But now Rose’s game-to-game health and availability will be revived as the story of Chicago’s season, sparking a new round of hand-wringing by the public. Ready or not, Chicago opens the regular season Oct. 29 with a marquee game against LeBron James and the two-time champion Heat in Miami.
Any sort of here-today, out-tomorrow pattern for the team’s MVP, on top of Rose’s lost 2012-13 season, could scuttle the Bulls’ season before it begins. And push Chicagoans past the breaking point.
As for the fans in Brazil, one way to look at Saturday’s disappointment is to treat it as an authentic NBA experience. They got precisely what the crowds at United Center endured last season: Derrick Rose in repose.