By Rob Mahoney
The Bulls have played an admirable season in the absence of Derrick Rose, but all of their hard work and crisp execution serves as a mere prelude to Rose's return. That's an understandable framing given the crucial function that Rose serves to his team; he's not merely Chicago's best player, but an altogether vital shot creator for a team that relies heavily on him to generate offense. Rose is the theoretical difference between a team that has to scrap for every point and one of the best clubs in the Eastern Conference.
But that very notion hinges on the idea that Rose can come back this season to resemble his former self, an uncertain possibility given the seriousness of Rose's injury (ACL tears are not to be underestimated) and his reliance on burst speed. He's in a difficult spot with massive expectations, and I suspect that the following report from Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago won't much help the anxiety and pressure surrounding Rose's potential return:
Derrick Rose's doctor has cleared the Chicago Bulls' star to play, a team source said, but his long-awaited return to the lineup won't occur until he can confidently dunk off his left foot, Rose has told the team.
The team is not pressuring Rose, the source said, but the Bulls are confident he will return this season and are still hoping for a mid-March return, which would mark 10 months after his surgery. The Bulls play at Golden State on March 15.
The source said the team has been assured by Rose's doctor that there is no more chance of the former MVP getting injured upon his return than anyone else and that the doctor told the Bulls that physically "he can play now." Rose is now dealing with the psychological side of trusting his body.
Many will respond negatively to the idea that Rose has been cleared to play but has reportedly chosen not to, yet the situation is more complicated than any binary decision from team doctors could possibly express. The thumbs up from the medical staff can confirm that Rose isn't at risk to worsen his injury or suffer a setback, but it fails to articulate Rose's true rehabilitative progress.
Every injury is a personal experience, and to say what Rose should or shouldn't be doing on the court blatantly disregards the specific link between his ailment and his individual game. For almost a year Rose's knee has provided a nag on his psyche, bearing a constant reminder of how unstable every step and jump might be. One can't possibly expect that level of uncertainty to disappear with a doctor's OK, even if his full physical recovery is an important part of getting him back on the court. His knee may be ready, but Rose isn't. It really is that simple, and thus far the Bulls have been wise to proceed carefully and patiently with the player who will define their future. I wouldn't expect that to change, even as news of this nature stirs the legions of fans who have grown more antsy with every update.