CHICAGO — The Bulls have done the right thing by providing him space, giving him time, allowing him to call the shots. But now, with the calendar about to take another flip, it’s their turn to take ownership of the situation.
This isn’t about pressing Derrick Rose to hurry back. This is about telling him to stay out.
Yes, for the good of Rose and the team and the future, the Bulls need to make the tough but sensible decision to shut him down until next season. Call off the debut before it even happens. Wipe 2012-13 off the books and chalk it up to crummy luck. Dump the ridiculous notion of Rose shaking off the rust and the doubt and throwing himself into the intensity of the playoffs.
Really, what’s to be gained by allowing Rose to play this season, even if he wanted to? A few wins in the playoffs? Maybe even a round? Is that really worth the risk, however small it might be, of something going terribly wrong and then dealing with deep regret?
It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to realize that Rose himself has a few doubts, a few worries. He isn’t sure. He doesn’t feel totally comfortable, not now anyway, with how he’ll respond to the stress of slashing and cutting and being the player who won the 2011 MVP. Doctors cleared him to play weeks ago but the mental part of recovery form knee surgery is just as difficult to overcome. Especially when the standards are high, as they are for Rose. He wants to hit the ground running, not wondering. He wants the results to come suddenly, not gradually.
And he wants to know if the time is really right, or if the idea of suiting up after last year’s May 12 surgery is just too much, too soon.
Over the last month he has held a ritual that’s watched by seemingly a million eyes: the pregame warmup. It’s where Rose goes through a battery of shots, dribbles and cuts, breaks a sweat and then retreats to the locker room to fetch a suit to wear for the game. He admits to the usual soreness that can be expected of someone trying to adjust to a high degree of activity, but no setbacks.
When asked about where he’s at in the process and if he’s ready to return, his answers are always the same, if not word-for-word. He speaks cryptically, saying “it could be tomorrow” and “maybe not for a while.” And last week he added a twist: “Nobody knows but God.”
Well, maybe it’s time the Bulls play the role of the Almighty and put the issue to rest.
There’s no urgency here. He’s not Kobe Bryant, a 34-year-old on the clock who’s had multiple surgeries himself. Rose is 24 with years of basketball ahead of him. The Bulls aren’t a win-now team with a narrow championship window; they’re built with the next three-four years in mind. Given all that, and what Rose means to the franchise, isn’t it better to be as cautious as possible and place Rose and any miracle hopes on ice?
Yes, that would mean dumping a Disney scenario where Rose returns good as new before the playoffs, leads the Bulls to a stirring upset of LeBron James and the Heat and then steals a championship from Oklahoma City or the Spurs. Well, even if Rose hadn’t gotten hurt, would the Bulls be that much better than everyone else?
They have time. Joakim Noah is just getting started in his prime. Luol Deng is one of the iron men of the NBA. A portion of the supporting cast is young. Carlos Boozer might be a concern, but hasn’t been this season. Rip Hamilton is on his last legs, but the Bulls have always needed a two-guard in the Rose era — so what else is new?
Anyway, they win with coach Tom Thibodeau preaching defense and Rose dictating the offense, and those dynamics won’t change between now and November.
If Rose returns before the playoffs he’d like go through an extended safety period where the Bulls strictly ration his minutes, the method the Timberwolves used for Ricky Rubio, and his impact in that scenario would be mild anyway.
“It’s coming,” Rose said last week. “I’m just taking my time. I’m just being patient. I’m not panicking or anything. If anything, I think I’m going to be a better player.”
That may be true, and if so, that’s something the Bulls and the NBA and any basketball fan would love to see.
Just not now. Not this season.