Derrick Rose is now mentally cleared to play.
Yeah, I know. A little late for that, right? Well, that’s one way to look at it. Here’s another way: He’s early and ahead of schedule for next season.
And how do we know Rose is ready to get beyond the mental hurdles that caused his image to take a hit, when he hasn’t broken a sweat in a game in over a year? Because he said so the other day. Kinda. Sorta.
In an interview with CNN, when asked who was the best player in the NBA, Derrick Rose’s answer was: “Derrick Rose.”
Well, that settles it, in case there was any doubt. Not the doubt about “best player” because we know who that is (and it’s not Rose). We mean the doubts about where Rose’s head is at. Why would Rose evoke his own name, the one that was spotless up until last spring, if he wasn’t ready to prove it? If he wasn’t feeling great? If he wasn’t willing to put himself first and LeBron James second?
Here in the thick of the offseason, where nothing really matters, and with months to go before training camp, one of the curiosities involves Rose and his mental state. He had knee surgery in the spring of 2012 and took his time — too much, according to some — to rehab his head as well as his knee. An entire season was lost, and those who watched the scrappy, injured Bulls push into the second round of the playoffs also thought an opportunity was wasted as well. Could the Bulls, with Rose, have prevented the Heat from repeating? (Probably not, but angry Bulls fans were too busy burning their Rose jerseys to recognize that.)
I always thought, by taking his time, Rose was doing what’s right for Rose and, in the big picture, for the Bulls, too. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called Rose’s decision “smart.” Rose is only 24 and the core of the Bulls is relatively young. They weren’t in a win-now-or-else situation. There was little to be gained from returning to play last spring, except to please the instant gratification crowd. He was cleared physically by the doctors, but not psychologically, by himself. He felt unsure, unsafe, unready. He felt he could re-injure himself. Nobody understood that except Rose, his coach and his teammates.
Yes, teammates. Only the voices outside the Bulls locker room thought Rose was letting them down. If there was turmoil caused by Rose’s absence, we would’ve heard an anonymous voice from inside wondering why he was bailing on the season, because that happens when players are upset. They start whispering. They start pointing fingers — quietly, off the record. But that never happened. Not once. Which means, the players understood. Even if some of you didn’t.
Therefore, on the Rose front, all signs are positive. Thibodeau has watched some of Rose’s workouts this summer and raved about his star’s body and confidence. Thibodeau said Rose “looks good and feels good,” although he admitted the true test will come this fall, after the first few preseason games. Rose gave himself the green light and said he won’t miss opening night, which by the way will be in Miami, for the Heat’s ring ceremony.
The most impressive part about Rose during all of this inactivity was his composure. He never attacked fans who questioned his heart and called him a coward. He stayed above that. His character was under attack and yet Rose took the high road, probably realizing he couldn’t win that battle anyway, and also realizing how those same angry fans will have short memories once he returns and is back to normal.
But what is “normal?” Remember, Rose was the best player in basketball — strictly from the standpoint of the MVP trophy, which he won in 2011 — before his injury. Physically he was healed months ago, but unless a player gets through the mental part, he tends to hold himself back, play too cautiously, never fully taps into his talent. By all accounts, that won’t happen to Rose going forward. He’s ready for “normal.” His head is, anyway.
We’ll see about his body. A lot has happened since Rose collapsed; mainly, LeBron has raised two championship and MVP trophies. Can Rose still slash, attack the rim, get lift and be the player who could either drop 30 points or a dozen assists or both in the same game?
That’ll tell us about about the MVP race, and who the best player is, in 2014.