It's the moment Chicago Bulls fans have been waiting for, except it's not. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau recently revealed that Derrick Rose "feels great" and has finally regained his explosiveness after 14 months of rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee, according to ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg. That's great news for everyone who dragged themselves through the ACL-rehab saga during the season, but now there's no way for happy fans to confirm Rose's progress because the team was eliminated from the NBA Playoffs weeks ago and Rose won't participate in Team USA Basketball minicamp. Rose is all dressed up with nowhere to go, but Thibodeau was still excited to deliver a positive injury update to Greenberg:
"Watching the way he's moving now, there's a confidence," Thibodeau said. "[Reporters] may not have been able to see the total work he was putting in. But he was putting in an enormous amount of work each and every day. He just never got to the explosiveness he was comfortable with. I think he's there now. He feels great, and that's the most important thing."
He said Rose is "running, lifting, playing and shooting. His day is full."
Rose was medically cleared to return to action in mid-February, but he never quite worked up the confidence to get back on the floor to test his repaired ACL. Thibodeau thinks the media overreacted to the situation with Rose during the season:
"The kid was being totally honest," Thibodeau said. "At the end of the day, you have to respect that. He wanted to be out there very badly. But no one knew when he would be ready, including him. It was a smart decision to wait. If you're not quite sure, and you're going to err, err on the side of caution. That's what he did. And now he feels great."
"He was practicing and he was good sometimes, but he also wasn't able to make the kinds of plays he likes to make," Thibodeau said. "No one is more explosive and can change direction like him. He had to be capable of doing that.
"That's what makes him so unique, how quick and explosive he is," Thibodeau continued. "He can jump sideways to avoid contact. He's always hopping around. That's a lot on your knee. You have to be comfortable doing that. He takes off and he doesn't take long to go from securing the ball to exploding and blowing by somebody."
After all of the hand-wringing and arguing about the unique, personal nature of Rose's recovery and his state of mind regarding the health of his left knee, it feels a bit odd that Thibodeau is the mouthpiece for this good news. For months, Bulls fans were told that Rose, and only Rose, could decide when he felt ready to return to the floor. Now the best injury update in over a year happens to come from someone else speaking on Rose's behalf and communicating his mental mindset to the masses?
In truth, Rose's recovery still isn't complete. People will need to see him play at an MVP level in live NBA action again before the bigger questions are put to rest. Rose will eventually have to speak for himself through his performance in games. A look back at the timeline for his return serves as a reminder that the situation has been filled with angst and uncertainty.
The Recovery Timeline: A Look Back and a Glance Ahead
A successful surgery to repair the tear in May of 2012 led to Dr. Brian Cole's estimate of an 8-12 month recovery for the former league MVP. Adidas then set the groundwork for a recovery that pushed the early end of that estimate with its ubiquitous marketing campaign, "The Return." As the prospect of a quick recovery slipped into the blood stream of Bulls fans eager to make a run at LeBron James and the Heat, the stakes continued to rise each day.
Cole made a point last May to warn Rose and his army of bullish fans that a full recovery, both "physiological" and "psychological," would be predicated on Derrick's dedication to rehab activities. The 24-year-old star met all of his important rehab markers in the first several months of his recovery, but then things took an odd turn in the spring when he stopped short of the last stage.
Rose first returned to practice in mid-December and started to participate in non-contact drills. Tom Thibodeau told reporters at the time that his point guard still had "a lot to do in terms of his rehab," and that he would not travel with the team on road trips. He ramped up his workouts and started participating in full-contact practice on Jan. 31. Everything was happening according to the original plan. Then, things started to get weird as the timetable for a return to the floor got murky.
When Rose was asked about a date for his return in February, he dismantled the 8-12 month estimate from Dr. Cole and told USA Today: "I don't have a set date, I'm not coming back until I'm 110 percent." The standard recovery schedule for an ACL tear -- the one adhered to by players like Iman Shumpert -- had suddenly been replaced by a new amorphous agenda. What did 110 percent mean, anyway?
Clarifications emerged along the way, but even as Rose passed every performance marker, the new timeline remained vague. First, Rose said he needed to be able to "dunk off stride." He was spotted dunking comfortably in pregame warmups on Feb. 24. Just days earlier, his brother Reggie slammed the organization for not surrounding Derrick with better talent. Then he said he needed to dunk off his left foot. He did so in March before a game. He wanted to come back "without restrictions," despite the realities of the rehab schedules endured by Shumpert, Ricky Rubio and countless other NBA players over the years.
He stayed quiet until March, but then a story broke that Dr. Cole had cleared him to play in mid-February and that a mid-March return was the internal goal for the Bulls organization. Rose spoke up on March 21 and revealed that he could return "tomorrow," but that "nobody knows but God." The all-powerful creator apparently did not provide a clear enough sign, as hamstring tightness still bothered him. That problem cleared up a week later, and he said he was "feeling healthy."
Despite the anticipation for his return, and despite the rash of injuries that struck the Bulls entering the playoffs, Rose continued to play things close to the vest (and off the predetermined rehab schedule). He refused to rule himself out for the postseason, but didn't play when the Bulls were without Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng in the decisive Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets. The organization had refused to shut Rose down, which led to a wild rumor that he was planning to play in Game 3 against the Miami Heat. That never happened, either.
Even with the recent announcement via Thibodeau, there still remains one final stage of the recovery process: Rose needs to play in real NBA game, where defenders will force him to move and react at unexpected times, using unexpected angles. After all of the distractions, and performance benchmarks and endless rumors, we all have to wait for the preseason for the moment when Rose will actually make "The Return."
He may not be Derrick Rose right away, but that's part of the process. It's good to know that things are back on track in Chicago, but everyone is still waiting to see Rose dominate an NBA game again. That's a message Tom Thibodeau can't deliver on Rose's behalf, and it's something everyone will just have to wait a bit longer to actually see.