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Rose eager to return this season but won't rush it

POSTED: Oct 2, 2012 11:53 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Rehabbing Derrick Rose knows he needs to be on a separate track for a few more months.

— Derrick Rose was on the court with his teammates Monday, his white Chicago Bulls No. 1 uniform gleaming bright, pounding a basketball and having fun ... in what merely was a reprieve of few hours from the rehab grind he's been in for months and returned to immediately after his team's Media Day activities at the Berto Center practice site.

Simply seeing Rose up and about in those home whites, rather than being carried off at the end of Game 1 against Philadelphia back in April, was a reason to smile Monday. But it was a tease -- it will be sometime in February before fans in Chicago can see that for real. Unless it's March. Or April, at which point they might not get to see Rose at all this season.

Derrick Rose Media Day Interview

That's the half-empty outlook on 2012-13 -- wait, that's the whole-empty outlook -- that Rose said his doctors haven't even broached with him in his comeback from torn ACL surgery on his left knee. "We haven't talked about it," Rose told NBA TV. "That's crazy. Hopefully I don't have to miss the whole year. But if so, I know I'll always have another year."

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is on record as saying he won't let Rose play again until it is "absolutely safe for him to come back," at which point the medical staff's reputations will be on the line. Obviously that's going to make them all err on the side of caution, lest Rose -- the Bulls' first superstar since Michael Jordan -- go from Air Apparent to His Errness.

For now, though, the time frame is tighter. In the next two weeks, Rose and his trainers will add lateral work to his regimen, which might be the next-riskiest movements to the torque-and-takeoff explosion that ripped his ACL in the first place.

"Cutting is the hardest thing in the world right now. I'm scared of it," Rose said. "I think when I get that out of my system, I think I'll be pretty close."

There have been a series of "hardest things" since Rose's injury and the May 12 surgery. Being treated like he's 84 rather than 24 -- his birthday is Thursday, which at least will change up all the get-well cards he's been getting. Missing Team USA and the London Olympics. Trusting that the sweat and monotony of rehab actually would bring improvements. He's there now.

"Mentally, I think I got stronger," he said. "When I think about the beginning of my surgery where I wasn't able to walk. Or having someone assist me to the door, to the car, and seeing me walk now. Being by myself, I'm going to be good, I'm not worried about that."

There will no doubt be a series of "hardest things" going forward. Cutting. Jumping. Trusting the ligament and his surgeon's repair. Thinking about a situation, the score, a play, the moment when he's out there rather than about his knee. Picking himself up after some awkward or inadvertent collision, and taking that first stride upcourt again.

One hardest thing at a time, though. Rose has learned not to rush since you saw him last. His gimpy knee insisted on that.

"Where [before] I didn't have patience at all," the Bulls guard said. "That's why I wanted to be in the league after my first year in college. That's why I wanted to win a championship so bad. But it's going to take time, doing all the right things and proving myself every day.

Carlos Boozer Media Day Interview

"There've been times when I felt like I could jump, play around, do all these things but I might injure myself. so I try to stay away from that and just stay focused."

Sure, Rose gets excited thinking about his friend Adrian Peterson of the NFL Minnesota Vikings, who shredded the ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee on Christmas Eve but, four games into this NFL season, is on pace to rush for more than 1,300 yards (he had 102 yards on 21 carries Sunday). Seeing familiar teammates so upbeat and healthy now in the Berto Center gym is a siren song, too.

But the Bulls need to keep Rose on a separate track for several more months. He knows it. They know it.

"We talked to our team today," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I want our team to focus on playing, improvement and our opponent, and let Derrick focus on his rehab. His rehab will be his games. But it's important for our team to be focused in what's in front of us. At some point, he'll be rejoining the group."

We think Rose has it hard? Consider Thibodeau, who has led Chicago to the best regular-season record in basketball the past two years -- 112-36, including 18-9 in Rose's missed games last season -- but begins 2011-12 not with championship ambitions but with the burden of playing without his superstar. Good thing Thibs won't be sweating out his contract status; the Bulls signed him to a four-year extension Monday.

The Bulls figure to look considerably different, both in personnel and style. Without Rose's quicksilver dribble penetration, Thibodeau said fans might see more Carlos Boozer post-ups and pick-and-rolls. Kirk Hinrich is back to play a more traditional half-court style at the point. Rookie Marquis Teague might be a Rose surrogate in speed but he's unlikely to play a lot. New sub Nate Robinson is, well, Nate.

So now the waiting begins. Will it be February? March? Not at all? Soon, insurance will be paying Rose's $16.4 million salary, a disincentive for the team to hurry him back beyond all that good-health, safe-than-sorry stuff. Reinsdorf has cited the precedent of Jordan's broken foot in 1984-85, when Jordan returned sooner than The Chairman would have liked, scored 63 points in a playoff game against Boston and couldn't boost Chicago out of the first round anyway.

Yet other Bulls players already seemed to buzz a little Monday being around Rose. Certainly, fans at United Center don't want to turn waiting for D. Rose into some pebble-grained "Waiting for Godot" in which the titular hero never does show up and, beyond a lot of chatter, nothing much happens.

There's also the chance that Rose, for all his patience, might heal as fast as he dribbles upcourt. He's going to be smart about this but he's also going to be ready and eager and, from the sound of it, the best story of the season in Chicago. This season.

"I can't wait to get back on the court to see what I'll do," Rose said. "I don't know how I'll do. I don't know what's gonna be new about my game. I just know it will be exciting for everyone to see.

"Just knowing how I'm going to play, I'm going to be a better player. Who knows in what areas. But my legs never have been this strong before, my upper body has never been this strong before. My core never has been this strong before. I'm just going to see how far it takes me."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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