The Bulls haven't played a game since the middle of May, but the transition from the end of the offseason to the start of training camp feels like something 17 months in the making.
The light at the end of the tunnel has finally been reached. The sweeping sense of anxiety has officially been replaced by newly-minted optimism and excitement. The Bulls are back, Derrick Rose is too, and they're starting a season with legitimate aspirations of contending for the NBA championship.
The road to get to this point felt excruciating at times, but it only makes the arrival of this new season feel even better.
The Bulls hosted Media Day at the Berto Center on Friday and opened training camp today. It was the first time all summer Rose played five-on-five.
It's a bizarre end fitting of a bizarre situation -- how is it possible he hasn't played five-on-five yet? -- but I'd like to think we're past the point of apprehension with regards to Rose's status. He did things on his own terms and it led him to this point. Rose sounds refreshed and ready to go, but his words hint at an undertone of frustration, maybe even vengeance. He dropped a small quote at Media Day that felt like it summarized everything that went into his extended rehabilitation and decision to sit out the entirety of last season.
"I'm going to play the same way," he said. "The only thing that has changed is probably my jump shot, that I can shoot a little further. But the biggest thing is my confidence level. I'm way more confident in my game and in my craft.
Rose's return was always delayed by fear -- fear that he wouldn't be himself, fear that he wouldn't be able to lift the Bulls as has so many times in the past. If he wasn't confident in his game, there was no point in coming back. That feels like it isn't debateable. Now that it's all finally in the rear view mirror, the man sounds like he believes he'll be back to the form that made him the youngest MVP in league history.
For his part, coach Tom Thibodeau isn't going to hold him back. While he said Rose's minutes will remain fluid, he also hinted at treating him like a healthy player and not one returning from an ACL injury.
"I don't want to get into specific numbers because I don't know what they'll be," Thibodeau said. "He's made it clear to me that he doesn't want big restrictions. But as I told him, we'll have to wait and see. Whatever he can handle, that's what he'll get."
Thibodeau's minutes management will be a point of contention all season, but it's important to remember Rose had enough time off to avoid a certain amount of coddling. We should assume a small transition period for a player who will have gone 549 days without playing meaningful basketball, but Rose should be back to the high-usage, offensive wrecking ball he was at his peak before long. After all, that's the reason he took his time coming back.
The health of Joakim Noah will be the second most important theme of the season. Noah spent the offseason working with surfer Laird Hamilton and a French osteopath he claims has cured him of the plantar fasciitis that plagued him throughout the playoffs last season.
"I'm 100 percent healthy and I'm so excited for this year," Noah said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but I feel like this is our time."
Here are some other notes from the last two days:
- Do you think Thibodeau wants Deng back after this season?
"Luol will focus on playing," said coach Tom Thibodeau, one of Deng's biggest backers. "I know from my end, I look at Luol and I see a special player. I don't think you can win a championship without a player like Luol. He does so many things for our team that go unrecognized by most except his teammates and coaches. He's a complete player."
- Rose said his individual workouts were more grueling than his first practice of training camp. DON'T TELL THIBS.
"Don't tell Thibs, but I have workouts harder than this. For real, I work out 3 times a day. So for us to go through practicing and have..."— Aggrey Sam (@CSNBullsInsider) September 28, 2013
"...water breaks and all that, that's something I don't normally do in my workouts. So this is hard. But I'm used to it."— Aggrey Sam (@CSNBullsInsider) September 28, 2013
"Don't tell Thibs" better be the newest Blog-a-Bull meme, is all I'm saying.
- Thibs on Rose: "The people that criticized him don't know what the hell they're talking about." I wonder if he follows @bullsblogger on Twitter.
Rose said he's slowed down on his candy intake but won't stop all together— David Schuster (@Schumouse) September 28, 2013
- Deng on Rose's impact on the rest of the team:
"Everyone knows what Derrick can do, the attention he gets, his ability to make guys better, his penetration, everything," two-time All-Star forward Luol Deng said. "It's going to help everyone's game out."
- Rose's newest reason for not coming back last season: he felt like he couldn't take on double-teams.
"I knew I wasn't ready to take on the double-team in the playoffs, so I had to make the decision that I'm not coming back."
Makes me nostalgic for 'not being able to dunk off my left leg'.
- Rose with the state of the union address:
"The thing that drives me is just winning the championship," Rose said Friday at Bulls media day. "That's the only thing on my résumé that I'm missing. This is a great time to do it where everybody is watching. It's the biggest stage you could possibly play on. My teammates are preparing themselves for a big year, and I am too. It should be a crazy, magical year where I think there's going to be a lot of people watching. It should be exciting to the Bulls fans."
And there's your working thesis for the season. He sounds like a man ready for things to start in earnest. I think we all are, too.