You can see this grain of salt from miles away. From wherever you pick up the Damen bus, number 50, in order to shuffle your way to the United Center. Some lone “NBA source” — a single person — is speculating that some members of the Chicago Bulls think star guard Derrick Rose “could” be a few weeks away from practicing. Which would then push Rose’s return to live action closer to late-December, ticking closer to the “eight” in the “eight to 12 months” diagnosis he was given after tearing his left ACL in a playoff game on A
Someone’s playing doctor, and the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley is reporting it. And because we’ve just as much insight as we guess from afar — like the source, like Cowley, like the players who might be watching Derrick cut and spin in individual drills every day but have no idea as to Rose’s eventual return — we’re going to play doctor as well.
And point out that the sooner the Chicago Bulls push Derrick Rose into the lineup, the more worried you should be. Because the team doesn’t have the greatest history of acting like the grown-ups in this situation.
First, Cowley’s report, which starts with the discussion that Derrick “could be just weeks away from practicing” with the team:
”That’s the belief that a couple of [the Bulls'] players are under,” the source said.
Rose has been expected to be able to play in games by February, but that has been inferred more than actually stated. Even if the Bulls receive the ultimate Christmas present of getting him back on the practice court just before Dec. 25, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily ahead of that February schedule — or behind it.
Asked Monday if there was a specific timetable for Rose to start practicing, general manager Gar Forman answered in a text message: ”We’re still taking the process step by step, and a date hasn’t been set.”
If that sounds tactful, coming from Chicago’s GM, it’s because he is on point with his on record patience. And while it’s a jerk move for us to expect Forman and his franchise to do the inappropriate thing and let Rose play as soon as Derrick feels as if he’s ready, it’s worth pointing out that Chicago’s history with these sorts of things isn’t as tactful as Forman’s comments appear above.
No NBA team comes close to working its players through injury or fatigue like these Bulls. Former center Omer Asik limped around the court in a playoff series against Miami in 2011 with what wasn’t initially diagnosed as a fractured fibula — the same malady that could keep Steve Nash off the court until January — but was later revealed to be a FRIGGING FRACTURED LEG-BONE once Chicago’s season ended. Luol Deng was fielded in much the same way a few years back, as the Bulls hemmed and hawed over his willingness to play through injury during the 2009-10 season.
Deng, it turns out, was more than amenable to play through anything — the All-Star forward played last season with a wrist that required surgery, and is leading the NBA in minutes per game for the second straight season. And Richard Hamilton, of the torn plantar fascia in his foot, was asked to hit the court late in Saturday’s win over Philadelphia in spite of the fact that he was clearly in pain with what at the very least looked like a foot sprain that he never should have been playing through. All while trainer Fred Tedeschi “clears” each of these players for work — a move that has gone darkly viral amongst Bulls fans, routinely using “Fred cleared him” as a wry joke about another active player that probably should be in street clothes.
(Though this has absolutely no correlation with him clearing players to work through broken legs or torn tendons, I would like to point out that Tedeschi deputy Al Vermeil was the NBA-hired trainer that worked out Yao Ming in Chicago in front of full view of NBA personnel chiefs and attending media in May of 2002. I was there, and though I don’t recall who asked Vermeil in a scrum about whether or not Yao’s body would hold up to NBA pounding — the similarly framed Zydrunas Ilgauskas was working through his own injury issues at the time — he did slough off any suggestion about Yao’s durability by pointing to his massive calves.)
Of course all of this is ironic considering the decades-long beef that former Bull Michael Jordan harbored against team owner Jerry Reinsdorf when Jerry (in his first full year owning the club) asked that Michael Jordan either sit out the ending-part of the 1985-86 season, or submit to a minutes allotment after MJ returned from a broken foot early in his second campaign. Chicago was rightfully lauded for playing it safe with its star, and Jordan (who complained that the Bulls were trying to lose games in order to grab a higher lottery pick) never got over the perceived slight.
Derrick Rose is no Michael Jordan; but Derrick Rose also is no Omer Asik. He’s no Rip Hamilton, and as much as this franchise and city respects Luol Deng, Derrick Rose is no Luol Deng. He’s a special case, a star the team knowingly went into the 2012-13 season with the understanding that they’d be without for an undetermined amount of time, and it’s very possible the Bulls could be saving up all of their patience to utilize in Rose’s recovery.
That’s a long way of saying that, as much as the guesswork behind the Sun-Times’ source might be off base, our worried guesswork that has us assuming the Bulls will push Rose back on the court before his time could be just as off base.
[Related: Dwight Howard hints at leaving Lakers]
Nobody knows what Rose’s proper timetable for returning is. That source doesn’t know. The Bulls players, even as they watch Derrick cut and sprint at the team’s practice facility, don’t know. Gar Forman doesn’t know, I don’t know — and most importantly Derrick Rose doesn’t know.
What we do know is that NBA players want to return to the court as quickly as they can, and play for as many minutes as they can once they hit that court. And that it’s up to the team to respect those wishes, but also to look past short-term gain in order to do what’s best for a player’s long-term health and the overall health of the franchise.
And we know, sadly, that the Bulls have a long history of refusing to be the smart ones in this instance. They cleared players to work despite obvious injury. They played a player 47 out of 48 minutes last week. No NBA player should ever play 47 out of 48 minutes, least of all in November. And no team comes close to Chicago in this frightening regard.
It would be nice — and this is coming from a Chicago Bulls fan — if the pattern would cease when it comes to the treatment of the team’s best player.
Derrick Rose would happily shave years off of his career if it meant he could return to the court by Christmas. It’s up to the Chicago Bulls franchise to calmly ask Derrick to put the razor down.
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