Derrick Rose sits. The one-year anniversary of the day he tore his ACL falls this week, the end of the typical 8-12 month recovery period approaches and still Rose sits. He has been medically cleared to play since March and has been scrimmaging for weeks, and still Rose sits. His Bulls sorely need their best player in a difficult Eastern Conference playoff battle with the Nets, and still Rose sits.
The rest of us wonder why, but we hesitate to ask the question too loudly, afraid to seem too focused on the player and not the person, too unsympathetic to his recuperation. Although Rose is the one with the surgically repaired knee, it's everyone else -- teammates, coaches, fans and media -- who have been stepping gingerly when it comes to his injury. But no more. It's time for everyone to stop tiptoeing around, including the point guard himself. Derrick Rose should suit up and play.
The only thing stopping him from doing so, it appears, is his own brain, his insistence on feeling as good as new. He has reported no pain in the knee. There is no indication that he would be taking on any greater risk of re-injury if he plays. Watch him during his rigorous pregame workouts -- running, jumping, cutting, dunking -- and you would never guess that he was less than fully healthy. Reports are that he has looked good -- better than good -- in scrimmages. So tell me again, what is he waiting for?
Until recently, what little criticism Rose has received has been gentle. We remind each other that no one can know what a player is feeling other than the player himself, that every athlete has to do what he feels is best for his own body, that players are flesh and blood, not action figures we can force out onto the court for our entertainment. All true. But lately, with the arrival of the postseason, it has become harder to accept the vague explanations and amorphous timetable Rose and the Bulls keep offering up.
"We don't want him out there until he's completely comfortable," coach Tom Thibodeau said after the Bulls' Game 1 loss to Brooklyn.
"I think I can do everything," Rose said a month ago. "It's just me having the confidence to do it. Just me feeling normal. Just me taking my time and being prepared and knowing when I come back I want to be 100 percent."
Normal? One hundred percent? The playoffs are here. No one's body feels normal after a season's pounding. You know who doesn't feel 100 percent? Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili and Steve Nash, to name a few. They're all injured to one degree or another, but they're playing. The Knicks' Iman Shumpert, who suffered the same injury on the same day as Rose, has been back since February. On Rose's own team, center Joakim Noah has been pushing through the stabbing pain of plantar fasciitis in his foot during the Nets series to give the Bulls whatever he can in limited minutes. The case can be made that Rose is healthier than Noah right now. How can he sit and watch while Noah grits his teeth and plays?
There is the school of thought that at this late date, it makes more sense for Rose to sit out the rest of the season and start fresh in training camp. But it's just as logical for him to test the knee and get over the mental hurdle now, rather than have the doubt linger all summer.
There is also the little matter of the playoffs, of the Bulls' season being on the line. Thibodeau clearly thinks Rose could contribute immediately, since he has said repeatedly that if Rose were to wake up one morning and decide he was ready, he would be in uniform and on the court that night.
Imagine if LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or really, any other player of Rose's caliber decided to sit out the playoffs because he refused to play at anything less than peak health. The criticism would come down on them like an avalanche. Rose's likability and humility have won him softer treatment, but that can't last forever. There is a fine line between being a perfectionist and being a diva, and Rose is walking the tightrope.
You wonder, is it fear or ego that keeps Rose from suiting up? Is it concern that he will re-injure his knee or is it his refusal to let us see him at anything less than his previously dominant self? Either way, it's time for him to conquer those apprehensions.
Rose's mere appearance on the court, in uniform, would cause Bulls fans to shake the roof of the United Center with an ovation and give his battered teammates an incredible lift. He doesn't have to be Derrick Rose, MVP, right away. He doesn't have to give the Bulls 40 minutes of dominance. All Rose has to do is get out on the floor and compete. All he has to do is try.