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By Sam Smith | 2.24.2015 | 11:44 p.m. CT
Derrick Rose is having surgery again.
Call it the six most feared words for Rose, the Bulls, their fans and the NBA community.
The Bulls’ media release Tuesday night arrived, once again with stunning disappointment and despair:
“Derrick Rose reported today with right knee pain. An exam and subsequent MRI confirmed a medial meniscus tear of the right knee. Surgery will be scheduled, after which a timeline for his return will be determined.”
Rose is expected to have surgery soon, perhaps this week.
It’s obviously a devastating blow for Rose, who in my view had been having a great season for just this reason: Because he was playing and we were not talking about injury anymore.
Rose had played the last 19 consecutive games even with minutes restrictions taken off and even had played more than 40 minutes in three of the last 11 games. He was averaging 32.9 minutes per game in February after 34.2 minutes per game in January. Even though there had been questions and second guessing about his play, Rose was averaging a very respectable 18.2 points and five assists per game. In those last 11 games, he’d scored at least 30 points twice, and both in big wins over the Warriors and Cavaliers.
Rose missed eight of the team’s first 13 games. But then he only missed three games and sat out the second half of another game back in November, overall an impressive return after having missed basically two full years. This came after a strong summer with USA Basketball winning a gold medal in the FIBA World Cup. Rose showed he was still fast and explosive and capable of having big games against the best teams and players.
Rose appeared to have a well crafted and intelligent plan about the season despite the noise and second guessing around him regarding whether he was trying hard enough often enough. But Rose seemed to understand the goal was to get through the season healthy, to be reaching a high point at the end of the season. The plan seemed to be going so well until Tuesday.
But it also doesn’t suggest a death knell for Rose’s career.
Rose and the Bulls will not know details until Rose has surgery. But previous history with other players suggests this is no death sentence to Rose’s career and he conceivably could be back playing at a high level in the playoffs.
Russell Westbrook, for example, in January of 2014 had his third surgery in eight months involving a meniscus. Westbrook last played on Christmas Day in 2013. He was back after the All-Star break in February 20, 2014 and averaging about 20 points in about 25 minutes per game.
Similar to Rose, Westbrook first had a meniscus repair, which is the more complicated surgery and requires a long rehabilitation. That is done instead of having it cut or removed. Like with Rose, Westbrook opted for that because he was so young. But when you have that surgery, you also are told, as Rose was when he first had his meniscus surgery in 2013, that there’s perhaps a one in four or one in three chance of another tear. If that happens, then you cut or remove, which is a cleaner procedure in a sort of arthroscopic surgery. That involves a shorter rehabilitation, generally around four to six weeks.
This is not to say anyone can make any predictions regarding Rose until he has surgery. But this is not comparable to the situation he faced with the same right knee in 2013. And there have been no knee issues since the 2012 ACL repair to his left knee. Rose was said to feel soreness in the back of the knee, which could suggest a less serious injury because of the place. But there’s also getting through the mental part of being able to trust yourself and your body after you have been through so many medical setbacks.
So while Rose grasps his circumstances, the schedule moves on relentlessly and the Bulls host the Charlotte Hornets in the United Center Wednesday.
Not that the Bulls were preparing for such an eventuality regarding Rose, but this is a deep Bulls team. Of course, there is no replacing Derrick Rose.
But the Bulls have in Aaron Brooks a former starting point guard who can step in and be backed up by Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore. Or perhaps Hinrich starting and sharing time with Brooks, one an offensive specialist and the other on defense. With the improved play of late of Tony Snell, the Bulls have a strong group at the wing position with Snell, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy. And that doesn’t even include rookie Doug McDermott, who is a great shooter but hasn’t gotten a chance yet. The front line is in tact with Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and the shooting of Nikola Mirotic. Given that depth and that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has not generally much used midseason replacements, it’s doubtful the Bulls add any significant player to the roster. Though they always have been prepared to sign a veteran if there is a buyout.
One element to watch will be how the team faces yet another devastating setback for Rose knowing how hard he’s worked to come back from injury after injury. Players were demoralized after Rose’s 2013 first meniscus injury and went into a downward spiral thereafter. They lost 11 of 14 to fall to 9-16 before righting themselves and finishing with a 48-34 record before losing to Washington in the first round of the playoffs.
There was no possibility of a Rose return that season after surgery, but this time it still remains possible.
The Bulls don’t know when this latest injury occurred. Rose sat out a light workout Tuesday with what was described as lower body soreness. Rose received an MRI and the disappointing news. He returned home immediately.
Rose, a Chicago native from Simeon High School, turned 26 last October. This is his sixth season with the Bulls. In his first three seasons, he missed a combined six games and won the league MVP in 2011. He has two seasons left on his Bulls contract after this season, through 2016-17 and is owed about $41 million for those two seasons.
Numerous NBA players, including LeBron James, John Wall, Jamal Crawford and Westbrook, went to Twitter and on TV to send regards and concerns to Rose in his recovery.
Thibodeau spent Tuesday at practice discussing Rose because of questions after Rose’s one for 13 shooting against Milwaukee, though Rose had eight assists and Thibodeau had said afterward Rose had run the team well and with pace.
"I think it would be premature to put a lid on it. Who says he can't come back and be a great again? I think he can,” Thibodeau said hours before the diagnosis. “He's already shown times (this season) when he's been great."You know it's in him. You have to keep grinding away. You're not going to be great every night, but he can play well when he doesn't shoot well and that's what makes him special
"He's been out a long time,” Thibodeau noted about Rose’s up and down return this season. “You have to remember he went through a little bit of it last year. This isn't the first comeback. It was bumpy last year. When you miss the amount of time that he's missed, there's going to be some bumps in the road. I want him to have the mental toughness to get through it. Just go onto the next game, learn from each situation. He had a great rhythm going before the break; he'll get right back to it. You're always faced with the challenge of getting used to a long season again. You want everyone to play with high energy every game and I think he's still getting used to that. When you're out that long, it takes some time. I'm sure he's going to be back in a good rhythm, like he was right before the break. I think that's coming.”