MIAMI — Although the atmosphere in the visiting locker room inside American Airlines Arena was subdued, there was an aura of pride, too.
Not to mention hope, as injured superstar Derrick Rose commiserated with his teammates, immediately conjuring up visions of the former league MVP returning to the Bulls’ lineup next season.
After the season ends, Rose is slated to return to Southern California for continued rehabilitation of his repaired left ACL, as well as basketball workouts with his trainer, Rob McClanaghan, and competition with other NBA stars. But the takeaway from the locker room scene is that the incredibly gutsy Bulls will be even more formidable with their best player back on the floor.
“Everything,” said Carlos Boozer, when asked what Rose’s return would mean to the team. “He’s a game-changer, all by himself. Take the game over any moment if he wants to. Makes plays for everybody, makes it easier for everybody. Just his presence alone will add a lot to our team. I think him coming back, Lu, we can be healthy. The thing about our team, in the three years we’ve been together, we haven’t been healthy in a playoff run yet. If we are next year, it’ll be scary.”
The saga of Rose’s recovery, complete with a very public debate about whether or not he should have returned to action during the latter portion of the season, including the playoffs, has now ended — or should have — but his teammates have remained resolute in their support of the Chicago native, even as they yearned for his presence during an injury-riddled campaign.
“It was hard. You definitely, as a player, you know you want him to come back, but at the same time, you understand you’ve got to look at the big picture and I’m really proud of him, actually,” All-Star center Joakim Noah said. “I think he’s dealt with it great, with all the pressure coming from a lot of people. I think the way he handled it, it was great. I don’t think a lot of people could have handled it like that. But if I was his big brother or I was a family member or something, then you look at it from that perspective, he did the right thing.”
[Noah: "I'm really proud of this team"]
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who’s also been unwavering in his support of the point guard, expressed that he was confident that, aside from the publicity Rose’s absence received, the situation was handled well.
“He has to keep working. I think he’s in a pretty good place mentally. With him, if we were going to make a mistake, we were going to make a mistake on the side of caution, so we feel good about where he is," the coach explained. "He has the whole summer to build more confidence and that’s the important thing, and as we said when he first had the surgery, we weren’t going to rush him back and we held to that, and I think it was the smart decision. You didn’t know and we didn’t know. He didn’t know.
"He heeded (Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's) advice from the beginning to not rush it and make sure you’re completely comfortable before you get out there. It’s too important of a decision for him to rush. Until he’s completely comfortable, we don’t want him out there.
"We knew this was a possibility and that’s fine. You deal with it as best you can. We just want him to continue to work the way he has been working and we want him completely healthy.”