The narrative surrounding the return of Derrick Rose has officially gone off the deep end. On Tuesday afternoon, the first snippets of Rose's exclusive interview with USA Today made the rounds with some confusing, if not downright contradictory, quotes regarding his return. Rose said that he won't come back until he's '110 percent healthy', that he's probably in the 'high 80s' right now and that a timetable for his return remains very much undefined.
"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."
The first report sparked speculation in the media that perhaps Rose isn't coming back. After all, he raised possibility himself. ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers followed up and had a source tell him that Rose's return this season is '50/50'.
The full USA Today profile dropped late Tuesday night, and it's a doozy. This is certainly the most revealing look into Rose's life and rehabilitation since he tore his ACL, and it's possibly the most insightful interview he's given in his career. Will Leitch's GQ interview with Rose last season comes to mind, but Leitch didn't get Rose to talk about his (nonexistent) father.
The USA Today profile is a must-read, covering everything from the pain Rose went through after surgery to his new dietary habits to the birth of his first son. On his recovery from surgery, when doctors 'drilled holes in his tibia and femur, and replaced the torn ACL with a piece of the patellar tendon', Rose said:
"My health was terrible, where I wasn't eating," Rose said. "They put me on medication. And when you're not eating and taking the kind of medication they gave me, it can mess up your body. It messed me up for like a week where I was throwing up consistently every day.
"I couldn't walk. I was in pain. My hamstrings were on fire. They had to block the nerve in my leg, so when that nerve block wore off, the pain came. It felt like someone was hitting my hamstrings with a sledgehammer."
Rose's return has been a calculated endeavor since he tore his ACL, and this interview is no different. USA Today and likely reporter Jeff Zillgitt were handpicked by Rose's agency, Wasserman Media Group, and supposedly there's two other interviews with national outlets that will soon hit the public.
While there isn't inherently anything wrong with this, it rubbed some in the local media the wrong way. Rose has given the local press the silent treatment throughout the process, which sparked an angry and sort of insane column from the Tribune's David Haugh on Wednesday morning. After the USA Today profile, Haugh wonders: who has more control over Rose, the Bulls or adidas?
Haugh, in a true Troll Tuesday-level effort, writes:
Rose oddly broached that possibility himself in a USA Today exclusive Tuesday that demanded everybody's attention because it raised questions that go beyond the stability of his knee — questions perhaps not even the Bulls can answer.
Questions about whether the humble hometown hero from Englewood has gotten lost somewhere amid a corporate marketing campaign packaging him. Questions about how much control the Bulls really have over a player they have invested $95 million in — or $165 million less than Adidas invested. Questions about who ultimately will decide when or if Rose plays this season: Team Rose or his NBA team?
The broader issue involves how much influence Armstrong and others at Wasserman will wield in determining whether Rose returns in late February or March or waits to re-launch his career next fall. If you accept the premise that Rose raising the possibility that he might miss the entire season represents an choreographed move by his agency, then it's not hard to imagine Rose's handlers having input into when he returns. And if people who have Rose's financial interests (as well as millions of their own) in mind start meddling into what's best for the Bulls' basketball interests, that poses a problem.
Haugh certainly isn't the only person wondering how much power adidas holds here, it's been raised to me by several different people in the last 24 hours. To me, though, Haugh mostly comes off as salty because Rose shut out the local media. If this interview is given to the Tribune, does he write this column? Does he raise the same questions about Rose's motivations? I find that very hard to believe.
The simple fact of the matter is that taking Derrick Rose's words at the surface level is a very slippery slope. He has grown more comfortable with the media in recent years and is certainly coached on what to say, but he remains less than the most eloquent speaker around.
It seems very likely to me that this interview was meant to build up hype for Rose's impending comeback, which is probably 2-3 weeks away. When Rose talks about the timetable, when Rose says "It could be any time", I don't believe he was attempting to say anything controversial. It was never his intention to drop a bomb in the middle of what's largely a fluff piece. When he says "it could be next year", I believe he was just trying to cover his bases. He isn't coming back tomorrow. Rose's version 'far, far away' could be anything longer than a week from now.
If Haugh truly wants to know who's behind everything, it isn't very hard to figure out. Rose has been sheltered from the media by his family to an extreme extent since he entered the national basketball consciousness when he was 15 years old. There are plenty of reasons for this. He was raised in a very poor, very violent neighborhood. He was raised without a father. He had to fly to Detroit to pass the SAT after failing it three times, so it's safe it say he isn't terribly book smart. Rose's family, led by his brother Reggie, has been at the reins all along. That extends to the present day, even as Derrick has an MVP award and a child. If Haugh thinks Rose is going to open up to just anyone, he obviously hasn't been paying attention to how the family does business.
The most likely scenario in my mind is that this profile is step one of Rose's comeback. There will be more interviews, probably another commercial. Haugh's correct in that the whole thing is contrived and calculated, but why wouldn't it be? What's wrong with that? It's called "The Return", people. If Rose comes back next season, it isn't so much of a return. I believe adidas wants Rose back -- it's what's depicted in the commercial. It's true that there's very real concerns over his return from injury, and that it won't be the blown out, thematic scene depicted in the ad. There will be minute limitations and nights off. There will be times when he doesn't look good. It's all part of the process, which Rose has seemingly aced the entire time.
So back off the ledge. Stop questioning Rose's motivations. This has taken a bit of an ugly turn that was never supposed to happen. Rose is very likely to return this season, and he'll do it soon. If he isn't back in a month, it might be time to worry. But right now? As the Bulls and Rose have said all along, he's right on schedule.
Ricky O'Donnell is an NBA assignment editor at SB Nation. Email at email@example.com or follow on Twitter.