CHICAGO – The question, fairly deep into Derrick Rose‘s first media session of Season-Ending Knee Surgery Part II, hung in the air for several uncomfortable seconds. As camera shutters clicked and the lights burned hot, Rose blinked back and appeared to search. He asked for a clarification and got it:
What do you say to people who think the Chicago Bulls should move on from building around and counting on you?
“Um … what can I say to that?” Rose repeated, and at that instant seemed to stand at the crossroads of hurt and anger. Might he lash out, harsh meeting harsh? Might he tear up, his feeling and loyalty and love of his hometown city grabbing him by the throat?
Rose found a better path.
“Um … you could be a fool if you wanted to,” the Bulls’ hobbled point guard said, sparking some nervous laughter. “I’m dead serious. I know I’m gonna be all right.”
Rose spoke with such assuredness, and even bravado cloaked in his soft, lazy-paced monotone, that it was like lifting a boiling pot of water off the burner. Just like that, things calmed down a little. For the Bulls, for their fans, for a city more than a little battered and bruised lately by its sports teams (minus the hockey club).
After hearing Rose talk, only the staunchest critics and doomsayers would be able to push the blow-up-the-Bulls storyline, at least for a while. And they were the ones who started it in the first place, within hours of Rose suffering a torn medial meniscus in his right knee in the Nov. 22 game at Portland.
Surely this latest injury, layered onto the repaired anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that sidelined Rose from April 2012 until training camp two months ago, meant that the point guard whose game relies so much on quickness and explosiveness never would be as quick or as explosive again. Surely the championship window for this roster of Bulls had closed, and surely the team would need immediately to search anew for a cornerstone player.
Rose was having none of that Thursday, as he sat for reporters and photographers after the team’s shootaround at United Center. The Bulls were prepping to face the Miami Heat Thursday (9:30 ET) in the nightcap of TNT’s doubleheader that had a different backstory from when it was scheduled.
In fact, Rose cracked open the door a couple times that he might, maybe, possibly, could be playing again sooner than expected. Asked if there was any chance he could return to help a Bulls team in the playoffs, he said: “I mean, if I’m healthy and the situation is right, I’m going to be back playing. If I’m healthy and my meniscus is fully healed, of course I’ll be out there playing.”
Say what? Then Rose came with the “but.”
“But, um, if it’s something totally different and the outcome is not how I would want to be, there’s no need.”
Given how cautiously Rose, his family and his agents handled his ACL rehab – blowing past the 8-10 month time frame offered by his doctors to wipe out 2012-13 entirely – and the fact that this time the Bulls’ front office declared him out for the rest of 2013-14, it seems highly unlikely that “the situation” will be completely, absolutely “right.”
But the Bulls, at 7-9 despite losing six of their past seven games, do play in the Eastern Conference. The talent that remains should be good enough to chase down a postseason berth and maybe even advance a round. Rose will be around the team much more this time, he said, compared to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach last season.
If this rehab, physically, gets fast-tracked the way Rose’s last one, mentally, got slow-tracked, who’s to say?
“Last year the rehab part and the training part, it was all new to me,” Rose said. “I didn’t like it. I did it because I wanted to get back on the court. But just going through it is hell.
“This year, I think it should be much easier, where I know what to do. I’m walking, I’m able to put pressure on my leg now. With the ACL I wasn’t able to put pressure on my leg … I wasn’t able to bend my leg for three or four months. I’m able to bend my leg right now after surgery. So this process, I think, should be a lot more smoother.”
This time, Rose said, he would be on the bench regularly. Still not really a part of things but more so, at least, than last time.
“For sure, just being around. Just be a leader. Let ’em hear my voice,” he said. “I get a chance to look at a game a different way. Especially if I sit on the bench every game. I’ll look at it as a coach and just try to learn everything.”
He has given no thought to the changes that might come in his absence, such as All-Star forward Luol Deng‘s uncertain future (he will be a free agent this summer and thus could be traded before that). Or other personnel moves pursued by VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman.
Again, he offered a glimmer of a sliver of … something sooner.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” Rose said. “I’ve just had time to worry about getting my leg together and to cheer on my teammates that I have on my team right now. There’s a chance I could come back….”
“… so I’m just sharing things on the court that I see and giving them advice and encouraging them to go out there and play well and give the game their all. That’s all I can do.”
Whenever he does – whether it’s four months from now or 10 – Rose will have played a total of just 50 games since the end of his 2011 MVP season. Two knee injuries and surgeries have even Chicago optimists speculating that he might have to alter his style of play, tweak his tendencies and go easier with the cutting, the leaping, the bursting through defensive seams and the attacking of rims.
Though ever affable, Rose wasn’t buying that either.
“That’s the way that I play,” he said. “I have a unique way of playing basketball. I don’t think I can change it.”
Rose said that the two games prior to his injury convinced him he was close to his old MVP form, so close that it was “heartbreaking” to get hurt at that point. He plans to add yoga and more pool time to his physical regimen to loosen up and relax his tightly muscled body.
But he doesn’t plan on grounding himself or settling for jump shots or trying to just be an average, clock-punching NBA player.
“No, not at all,” Rose said. “I believe that I’m a special player. I think people love the way I just play. I don’t try to impress anyone while I’m playing or anything. It’s just the way that I play. I just have a feel for the game. I know my story is far from done. I know it is. He’s just preparing me for something big.”
Rose was talking about faith, at this point. His religious faith and, in essence, the faith Bulls fans need to have through this latest challenge. In fact, asked what he would say to fans, the local hero was quite direct.
“That I’m not done,” Rose said. “I know that He’s preparing me for something bigger. Of course right now when you’re living in the moment, you just don’t understand certain things. But I think if I was to look 10 years from now or so, just being in the future and looking back, I think this is going to be minor.
“It’s something that just happened. And I’m never going to stop. Like I said, if I hurt myself 10 more times, I’m never gonna stop. Never.”