It will be exactly 10 months on Tuesday since Derrick Rose underwent successful surgery to repair his torn left ACL. If the road that's led to this point has taught us anything, it's the dangers of putting hope in calendar math, but 10 months still seems like a significant checkpoint. Most expected Rose would have been back by now, easing his way through those first few games, building up strength and confidence in his knee before attempting to throw the Bulls on his back just in time for a playoff run. It's been 10 months since the day of the surgery, and none of that is happening, at least not yet.
Derrick Rose is stuck in a holding pattern. Reports this weekend had Rose saying his hamstrings were "on fire" after the full-contact scrimmages he's been participating in for over a month. It feels like a good sign, that updates on Rose have now shifted from speculative and anecdotal to something more tangible. It seems like a logical next step in the recovery process. It seems like it could be important.
Or maybe it's just another reminder to NBA fans dying to see Rose back on the court that putting stock in much of anything is a dangerous game. Rose's return to the court hasn't exactly unraveled in the last month, but it's certainly gone off-script.
It's been a month since the USA Today interview in which Rose said he isn't coming back until he's "110 percent". It's been three weeks since his older brother and childhood guardian Reggie Rose blasted the organization for failing to surround Rose with better teammates. It's been five and a half months since the release of adidas' most publicized trailer for The Return, the one that shows Chicago coming to a standstill after Rose goes down and ends with hug, a smile and a head nod as the superstar returns to the United Center floor for the first time.
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The commercialization of Rose's return was always inevitable -- adidas didn't sign him to a $260 million contract just to whiff on a compelling narrative and huge marketing opportunity. Turning Rose's recovery into a proper noun and a hashtag still feels like the worst thing that could have happened, though. The last scene in that commercial was never how this was going to play out. There was going to be minute limitations and organization-enforced benchings on the second night of back-to-backs. There was going to be an adjustment period. There was going to be a few moments reminding everyone that tearing an ACL is still a devastating injury for an athlete whose success is predicated on top-end speed and unfathomably quick cuts, even with improvements in medical technology.
The worst thing about the commercial has always been how definite it felt, though. Rose has said it himself on multiple occasions in the last month -- maybe he isn't coming back this season. As the weeks continue to pass and the Bulls continue to struggle offensively on a nightly basis with a walking wounded roster, everyone wants Rose back. Now he's starting to feel the heat.
A report last Friday had a source telling ESPN Chicago that Rose had been cleared to return. It turned an already tangled conversation into a delirious one. Chicago's front office is notoriously tight-lipped -- did they leak this bit of information to put pressure on Rose to return? Was this the next chapter in what sometimes appears to be a growing disconnect between Rose's camp and the team?
It feels like it was all blown out of proportion. As Ric Bucher noted, Rose was technically cleared by doctors from the moment he returned to five-on-five in practice. There isn't a second level of clearance required to return to an actual game. It's always been about when Derrick feels comfortable coming back. That isn't good enough for some people.
What's occurred in the last month was unthinkable when Rose was crying at a podium and thanking his mother while accepting his MVP trophy almost two years ago. A certain section of local media and fans have started to turn on Rose, just a little bit. It's a testament to how boring the Bulls are without him, how dynamic he is on the court and how badly everyone just wants to watch him play basketball again. Rose is still beloved in Chicago and a real life superhero to his fellow South Side youth, but he's not angelic anymore, not to everyone. He isn't without a group of critics, even if they appear to be a minority. The public perception has started to turn ever so slightly in some corners: why isn't Rose back with the Bulls yet?
It started in the local media after the USA Today interview when Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh openly questioned who was pulling the strings for Rose's return. As the local beat writers have been given the cold shoulder by Rose throughout the recovery process, it's only continued. When Rose told Doris Burke that his hamstrings were sore after scrimmages, it devolved into a conversation about why Rose is speaking to national press instead of opening up to everyone. It feels like the Chicago media is just salty Rose won't speak to them.
What's damning is that Rose is being honest about his cautious approach, and he's getting heat for it. Michael Jordan once famously fought his bosses for trying to keep him sidelined when he was recovering from a foot injury his second season -- even publicly calling out the organization for trying to tank . Rose seems determined, some say, to take his sweet time. Rose isn't Jordan -- no one is -- but MJ's shadow still carries weight here. Rose is the first NBA superstar Chicago has had since Jordan and he'll be measured up to him until the day he retires, fair or not.
If you think the hand-wringing over whether Rose should be playing already is bad now -- it is -- just wait to see what happens if he doesn't return in a couple of weeks. Imagine what will happen if he doesn't return at all. This was always supposed to be a new beginning for Rose, not the end of anything. Turns out, he could be setting himself up to take some very real criticism for the first time in his career.
It just all feels so misplaced. Yes, the Bulls need Rose back as soon as possible, but this season was never going to end in a championship for Chicago in the first place. That hope went out the window when Daryl Morey gave his poison pill offer sheet to Omer Asik and the Bulls decided to trade their only reliable shooter (Kyle Korver) to lessen a luxury tax penalty.
More than anything, the Bulls need a healthy relationship with Rose because he is all they have. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have been inspirational for Chicago this season, but NBA basketball begins and ends with superstars. The Bulls cashed in on a 1.7 percent chance to get there's in the draft lottery, and next 10 years will be about how they build a winner around Rose.
The best advice is simply to chill out, but it almost already feels too late for that. The Bulls are 6-10 in their last 16 games, shooting just 42 percent from the floor. With each brick, more people start to wonder what's taking Rose so long. I think he should play at some point this season because logging real game action can only help with the recovery process. I also think there's plenty of time left in the season and that he didn't need to be back yesterday. Rose's confidence and comfort level trumps everything here -- even if he sits out the whole season, Chicago should support his decision. Rose simply means too much to the franchise and the city not to.
One thing seems certain: whether Rose returns this season or not, the vision of him as a flawless, infallible athlete might be dead. Derrick Rose is human after all, and some just aren't willing to accept that.