The Chicago Bulls are in an awkward spot with Derrick Rose and his injury. The team got pounded by the Blazers on Thursday night and Tom Thibodeau's group is struggling to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference, but Rose has left his decision to return up to God. Doctors have cleared him to return to live NBA action, and Rose even participated in another full-court scrimmage on Wednesday, but he has been reluctant to leap over the last hurdle and get on the floor in a game situation.
The tension between the team and their MVP-caliber point guard exists because Rose has pushed off the last part of his rehab process: live-action NBA activity. Medical clearance from doctors for his surgically-repaired ACL means that the experts aren't concerned about basketball activities creating any additional risk of re-injury. In essence, the early stages of competitive play should probably be considered part of the recovery process. He needs to recalibrate his notion of what a healthy knee will feel like, and that can only come when he tests his limits in real play.
Even so, Rose is taking things slowly and offering up vague statements about his return (via Sam Smith of Bulls.com):
"I feel when I'm ready to come back I'll be ready no matter when it is," Rose said when asked if there was a date after which he couldn't or wouldn't return. "Whenever I'm ready I'm going to be out there. It's (explosion) coming. I'm not panicking or anything. If anything, I think I'm going to be a better player. I'm just taking my time, being patient, doing all the right things and really eating right and getting rest. I'm way stronger. Just seeing how I'm going to put that in my game, I don't know yet. When we're playing five on five, I'm trying to pick the right spots and really find out how strong I am.
"(I'm) working on my body so when I come back I'm giving myself the best chance to be a better player," Rose said. "Still about the same where you warm up a little bit, be loose, then activity picks up and it gets back sore. It's going through that."
The Bulls are currently the No. 6 seed in the East playoff bracket, but they are tied with the Boston Celtics in the standings and now sit just two games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks after dropping six of their last eight games. Chicago holds secondary tiebreakers over the Celtics and Bucks by virtue of a better conference record, but they are still in danger of wasting the entire season's effort with a terrible finish down the stretch. Bulls fans are getting antsy, but Rose won't commit to a timetable or place a percentage on his health any more:
"Just getting used to my activity picked up a little bit," Rose said. "Just getting used to running, playing five-on-five, doing everything I used to do. During five-on-five (scrimmages), I'm very comfortable when I'm out there playing. If anything, it's much easier because I can shoot the ball much better. Sometimes, you kind of think a little bit when I'm out there. That's when I know I'll be ready to play, when I'm out there not thinking but reacting.
"I got my teammates behind me and they see how hard I'm pushing in practice and I'm seeing how hard they're fighting for me on the court, it makes me want to go harder," said Rose. "It makes me want to be out there more, too. But you have to look at the big picture. Everybody is different. I watch them play here and there (Rubio and Shumpert). They're playing good basketball. It just gives me a lot of confidence so that when I come back I know I should be all right I really don't know (percentage of how he is) right now. I don't want to put place a percentage on it. I just know I'm close and I'm taking every day serious."