There have been enough ACL injuries to top athletes in the last calendar year to have established some sort of blueprint for return. In the case of Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert, it looks something like this: take incremental contact at practice before being cleared for full contact scrimmages. After about 2-5 weeks of simulating the real thing in practice, the path is usually clear for the official return, where a strict minutes limit will be enforced (usually 20 per night) and the second half of back-to-backs will be treated with Popovich-like caution.
Rose has been taking full contact since Jan. 30 which would seem to put him on track to return to the Bulls some time shortly after the All-Star break, the same timetable Rose's handlers have been hinting at since he had surgery. When I covered his promotional adidas event in September, I asked his older brother/guardian Reggie Rose about a loose projection for Derrick's return. He said no one was going to tell Derrick returning before the All-Star Game was an impossibility, but that they likely wouldn't think seriously about coming back before mid-February or March, at the earliest.
This would appear to mean that Rose's return is right around the corner. Or maybe it isn't.
Rose gave exclusive comments to USA Today on Tuesday about his return. Rose said he isn't coming back until he's "110 percent" and that right now he's "probably in the high 80s". Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Rose did bring up the possibility of missing the entire season:
"I don't have a set date," Rose told USA TODAY Sports on Monday in his first extensive interview since the 2012-13 NBA season began. "I'm not coming back until I'm 110%. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready."
Listening to the way Rose speaks over the course of his career, I have a hard time putting much stock into the idea of him missing the entire season, though it is noteworthy that he would bring it up.
Rose's comment, off-the-cuff or not, comes on the heels of a few talking heads publicly stating that Rose should sit out the entire season. Magic Johnson has been saying it on the ESPN/ABC pre- and post-game shows for weeks. On Monday's B.S. Report, Ric Bucher echoed the sentiments he's held all season: that the Bulls are significantly worse than they were last season, that Rose will likely try to shoulder too big of a burden upon his return and re-open himself up to injury. Bucher believes the Bulls would be crazy to bring Rose back.
Which, honestly, I don't understand. The Bulls are already be very cautious with Rose. Consider that Shumpert tore his ACL on the same day (though he did have surgery about 10 days sooner) and has been playing since Jan. 17. Johnson and Bucher both seem to harp on the fact that Rose's aggressive playing style and competitive edge means bringing him back this season could be disastrous. Johnson, in particular, seems to believe basketball players are who they are, and that they cannot change.
Which, again, is insane. Basketball players get hurt all the time and find a way to change their games. This is even more apparent in great basketball players, of which Rose certainly qualifies. Rose will change his game. He tells USA Today he's added '10-11 lbs. of muscle'.
"I don't know what type of player I'm going to be. I just know that I'm going to be very good."
Expect him to take more three-pointers. Expect those four-on-one kamikaze drives to the rim to be in short supply this season. Derrick Rose is not stupid. He does not want to get hurt again. He'd be letting a lot of people down if that happened. The Bulls need to protect him from Thibodeau and from himself. I trust the Bulls handle the situation with the proper amount of caution.
As for what we can expect from Rose when he comes back? He won't be at the height of his powers, but that doesn't mean he won't have a 25-point playoff game or three left in him. Thibodeau is a master at creating open looks, and the point guard slot in his offense has always been one with free reign to shoot. The Bulls will get Rose looks, even if he's not beating guys in isolation like he did so thoroughly throughout his MVP season.
Keeping in line with what we've heard all along, I would be very surprised if Rose isn't back by the first week of March, at the latest.
Ricky O'Donnell is an NBA assignment editor at SB Nation. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter.