No contact yet, but Rose returns to practice; set to travel

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No contact yet, but Rose returns to practice; set to travel

Ever since he first tore his ACL during Game 1 of the Bulls first-round playoff series last spring, the progress of Derrick Rose has been something of a mystery, as the organization hasnt been exactly forthcoming with updates, and for good reason, being that they would be deluged by requests for information about the superstars rehabilitation efforts.

But CSNChicago.com has learned that over the last two days, minus the contact portions, the former league MVP has been a full participant in the teams practices at the Berto Center.

However, that doesnt mean Rose will return to the court in the near future, as it was always the plan to have him increase his basketball workload in an effort to get familiar with his new teammates, have a comfort level in running the offense and regain a semblance of his timing, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

While there is no set timetable for Rose to resume playing, according to multiple sources, the 24-year-old point guard will be back on the court sometime after the NBA All-Star break.

There are still some hurdles to clear most notably, taking contact in practice, something hed have to do for a significant period of time before getting clearance to play but one of the next steps, traveling with the team on the road, should occur on one of the Bulls upcoming January road trips, according to multiple people with knowledge of Roses recovery, including the player himself, told CSNChicago.com (the All-Star point guard and this writer happened to be leaving the Berto Center simultaneously after the teams shootaround Saturday morning).

Still, before Rose returns to action, he will again take a visit to Southern California, where he has split time doing rehabilitation, in order to have the medical specialists he has consulted with there examine him, according to a source.

That same source told CSNChicago.com that Roses return will be a collective decision made between the players representatives, the organization and its medical staff, as well as Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. But, regardless of medical clearance, Rose will have to be comfortable mentally in order to get the go-ahead to play, making the idea of coming back early moot, as his next game will be exactly when the stars align, so to speak.

While many observers have cited the case of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, in the midst of a career and potentially record-breaking season, as an example of an explosive athlete who returned from ACL rapidly and at the same, if not higher level, it should be noted that there are vast differences in the two athletes body types, nature of their sports and respective recovery processes, as recently detailed by Peterson in Sports Illustrated.

As far as what Rose has been doing in practice, its much of the same as what has been previously walking through dummy offensive sets, shooting drills but according to a person familiar with the proceedings, hes also dunking the basketball occasionally, going full speed when its called for and participating in staples of Bulls practices, such as defensive slides and closeout drills.

Though Rose acknowledged Saturday that he felt blessed to be back on the court and sources say his teammates are equally as pleased to see him increasing his participation, though it has not raised their expectations and while the sight of him at away games in the near future will surely bring more anticipation, that is also part of the recovery process.

Another person with knowledge of the situation told CSNChicago.com that it wont affect the Bulls roster moves, particularly in regard to backup point guard Nate Robinson and his non-guaranteed contract, of which the team must make a decision about by Jan. 10 who is likely to remain with the squad for the rest of the season.

Regardless, its an encouraging sign overall and while patience on the part of fans and media alike should be exercised, for Roses long-term future, which seemed so shaky just months ago, perhaps it may partially allay the fears that the Chicago native wont be able to overcome a significant roadblock in the way of reaching his magnificent potential.

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

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USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem said. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

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USA TODAY

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