CHICAGO – If I’m Jerry Reinsdorf or John Paxson, one of the men running the Chicago Bulls and thus responsible for Derrick Rose‘s well-being, I’m picking up the phone sometime in the next two weeks for an advance ruling from the suits at NBA HQ in Olympic Tower.
The question: Is “DNP-precautionary move” an acceptable explanation in the box score for a player’s absence? Which really means, can the Bulls hold out Rose in his return season from knee surgery as they see fit this season, without either the threat of hefty fines from the league or the need to frighten their fan base by stipulating to “soreness” concerns?
If NBA commissioner David Stern is OK with that, then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau needs to channel his inner Gregg Popovich and start circling in red dates on the schedule when he thinks A) Rose would benefit most from a night off, and B) his team likely could muddle through without the All-Star point guard. Naturally, A is way more important than B if Chicago wants to position itself for a serious postseason run, regardless of W-L record, home-court advantage or playoff seed.
Then again, if Stern were to decree that only injuries, exhaustion or off-court personal matters are legitimate reasons to not have a player on the floor for a regular season game – Popovich’s four-players-short charter flight to Miami last November put everyone on notice, after all – the Bulls still would have an out. They could play word games, citing “flu-like symptoms,” “tendinitis” or various, vague “strains” for the official record, fooling no one and triggering repeated wink-a-thons from November through April.
What they don’t want to do, though, is use that “soreness” explanation the way they did Saturday in holding Rose out of the preseason game against Washington in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not now, not ever again if they can help it.
Given what the Bulls and their fans have gone through waiting for Rose to return from ACL surgery on his left knee – 75 weeks from his injury on April 28, 2012 to his first game action at Indiana nine days ago – anything even faintly resembling a setback or (gasp!) a shutdown would be borderline cruel. They need to at least feign being pro-active in spotting Rose time off when he needs it, rather than reacting to aches or pains after the fact and lapsing into another endless cycle of injuries in 2013-14.
Rose pronounced himself fine after Monday’s practice and said, had it been up to him, he would have faced the Wizards Saturday in one of the NBA’s high-profile global games. Thibodeau said Rose looked fine and that he expects both the point guard and center Joakim Noah (who has yet to play in the preseason) to face Detroit Wednesday at United Center.
Thibodeau cited multiple factors that played into the decision by the coaches, the team’s medical staff, VP Paxson and GM Gar Forman to have Rose sit. And they did term it a “precautionary move.”
“You’re concerned about anything that would keep a player out,” the coach told reporters Monday. “If he needs rest, he’s going to get rest. If he needs to play, he’ll play. He’s responded well to the challenges that he’s faced thus far. I didn’t like the idea of flying all night [Chicago to Brazil], not well-rested, some soreness – I didn’t want to take the chance of him being out there.”
Still, given the limited coverage and means of communication with the Bulls out of country, the mere mention of “knee” and “soreness” in the same area code, never mind sentence or paragraph, sent tremors through Chicago’s fan base and media. Some were nervous. Others were angry that what might be an expected two-steps-forward, one-back process didn’t start back in March or April, by which time Rose was pronounced healthy by doctors.
Paxson brushed that aside Saturday, and Rose wasn’t looking back much Monday either.
“Nervous, I can understand,” he said of the fans’ reaction. “But at the same time, I have to worry about myself and worry about my health. So as long as I’m healthy … and this is the preseason, to get all the wrinkles out. Regular season, I should be all right.”
Most people are realistic enough to not expect the 2010-11 MVP version of Rose to be on display this season, start to finish. What they’re hoping, though, is that no one is forced to rev up Rose Watch II, the endless daily monitoring and hand-wringing that wore out pretty much everyone last season.
Remember, even before he shredded his left ACL in the 2012 playoff opener, Rose had missed 27 of 66 games in the post-lockout season with assorted ailments. The Bulls were 32-7 when he played compared to 18-9 when he didn’t, and then they went 45-37 last season while not having Rose around at all.
What Chicago wants from them and from Rose will come, if it comes at all, next spring. If they get to that point by spotting him some nights off along the way – Thibodeau says there’s no plan to throttle back on back-to-back games, though that’s a logical place to look – everyone will be happier and this comeback season will go down more smoothly.
Finally getting Rose back in front of a United Center crowd Wednesday night against Detroit will be exciting for them all. Not using him up or pushing too hard in occasional similar games over the next six months simply would be wise. Sixty games, give or take, would seem a reasonable target.
But if Rose’s availability is reactive rather than pro-active (within the realistic bounds of sports injuries, anyway), one tedious season is going to stretch into two.