By Ben Golliver
Derrick Rose told reporters Tuesday that he remains unsure of when he will be able to play following 2012 knee surgery and that suggestions the Bulls are pressuring him to return to the court are untrue.
The Chicago Tribune reported Rose's statements, which come in the wake of a report last week, citing an unnamed Bulls source, that noted that Rose has been cleared to play by the team's doctor, suggested the organization was hoping for a mid-March return and asserted that his return was now waiting on Rose to trust his body.
"I don’t have a (return) date, to tell you the truth. I’m just taking my time. I haven’t taken any steps back. I’m getting stronger every day. I did every workout possible. The workouts are getting a lot easier. I’m moving in the right direction."
"Crazy, making up stuff," Rose said of a rift with the organization. "Everybody assumes everything. I’m the last person that someone will have a confrontation with. I’m not trying to argue with anyone. Everything has been great. It’s crazy. You hear all the stories that are going on and none of them are true."
The 2011 MVP underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee in May 2012, 10 months ago, and has been officially noncommittal about a return this season. Last week's report led at least one Chicago columnist to suggest the Bulls were indirectly pressuring Rose to return to the court.
ESPNChicago.com reported that Rose did acknowledge the mental aspect of his recovery on Tuesday.
"I haven't had any pressure from the organization and no one else to push me to go out there and play. My teammates have been doing great with just playing hard for me. They're still out there playing hard, fighting, so that's a good sign and we're winning games, so I'm not worried about anything right now."
"I just think with any surgery you're just going to have to get over that [mental] hump and that's what I'm doing now," he said. "Where I'm able to play but just getting over that hump I should be fine."
Rose returned to full-contact practices with his teammates in January after taking part in more limited practice sessions in December. Video of Rose dunking surfaced last month and his rehabilitation was painstakingly chronicled in a national video ad campaign from Adidas. In his absence, the Bulls are 35-28, good for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Impatience has been building over the last few months, and last week's report, which shifted the discussion fully onto Rose, certainly added an element of expectation that wasn't helpful. Fans and media wanted Rose to return last month, they want him to return now and they will want him to return next month, too, if he hasn't already. As time passes, the urgency and volume of those desires increase, but they shouldn't impact the decision-making. Neither should the Bulls' positioning in a tight Eastern Conference playoff picture. Chicago is 1.5 games out of fourth but only 0.5 games out of seventh. Homecourt advantage and desirable matchups are trivial compared to the importance of Rose's long-term health and the necessity of avoiding re-injury.
Rose's best bet continues to be making this decision in a vacuum, based solely on his personal comfort level and the official clearance from doctors. His competitiveness shouldn't be questioned, given his remarkable ascendancy, and trying to rush him over the "hump" is both short-sighted and out of balance from a risk/reward scenario. An ideal situation still would see Rose return with a few weeks to work himself back into shape before the start of the postseason, but we're inching toward that ideal no longer being possible. If time runs out on the regular season, who cares? Rose has been a model star and franchise player throughout his career, and his ability to find a comfort factor after this injury will determine the franchise's course for the next half-decade.
The big picture couldn't be any clearer. Would any reasonable person really trade the certainty of a fully healthy and ready Rose entering training camp next fall for his availability down the stretch if it meant even one percent of additional risk of re-injury due to rushing back or not quite feeling right mentally? Rose did well to tamper down the distractions here and hopefully, in return, he will be afforded the time and space to return under the proper terms, his terms. Rose, 24, suffered his knee injury during Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against the 76ers. The No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft and a three-time All-Star, Rose holds career averages of 21 points, 6.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds.