MIAMI — It seems that the ongoing debate surrounding whether Derrick Rose should return to the Bulls’ lineup centers around criticism of the former league MVP and analysis of his readiness to play.
But as the controversy reaches a fever pitch during the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Heat, the people who have the most valid opinions -- no, not fans or the media, now include former players who have weighed in -- continue to support the Chicago native.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who has been the team’s de facto spokesman on the matter, has consistently backed the superstar, but his teammates have even more passionately come to the point guard’s defense.
“Don't do that,” Joakim Noah said when the topic was raised after the Bulls’ Game 1 win Monday. “I mean, Derrick's a brother. To see him go through this is really, it's tough, you know. But at the end of the day, its real funny how quick people are to judge. But people don't know what it's like to lead a team, especially after you tore your ACL. If you tore your ACL and you have to be the starting point guard and have the expectations that Derrick has, then maybe you can judge. But everybody who hasn't been in that situation before should really shut up. I feel like it's so unfair to him and to this team.
“We're fighting and everybody's just [criticizing] somebody who's given so much to this organization. It's crazy,” the All-Star center continued. “I think that he's dealing with it unbelievably well. He's tough as nails, man. He's not budging. He doesn't let none of that affect him, whether it's praise or its people judging him about his decision. He's the same. I really respect that. Because I don't think a lot of people could deal with the things he deals with on a daily basis.”
When it comes to speaking from the heart, Noah’s the best representative the Bulls could have. He never hesitates to pull his punches, meaning that if he has no qualms with Rose sitting on the sidelines while the Bulls experience a litany of ailments -- fellow All-Star Luol Deng has been in and out of the hospital back in Chicago due to complications arising from a spinal-tap procedure last week, Rose’s replacement Kirk Hinrich has been out for the team’s past four games, Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson played through the flu (with the latter vomiting during timeouts in the Bulls’ Game 6 first-round loss to the Nets) and Noah himself has been battling plantar fasciitis -- no one else should either.
But again, that’s the heart talking.
When it comes to the head, although every injury is different and every person recovers in their own way, there’s no better expert than somebody who’s been through it before.
Perhaps a uniquely qualified individual to discuss the recovery process is former NBA All-Star point guard Tim Hardaway, who wasn’t the above-the-rim athlete Rose is, but anybody who saw the Chicago native -- a fellow South Sider, he’s a predecessor to Rose in a lineage of Windy City floor generals that also includes the likes of Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and current Oklahoma City assistant coach Maurice Cheeks -- play early in his career knows the ex-Warriors and Heat star was extremely explosive as a young player.
“You’ve got to get your leg and your brain back to the same place, that you can come out here and be confident, and play at the same level that you did before you were hurt. That’s the main objective. Because if you don’t, then you’re going to be doubting yourself all the time and as soon as you get that together -- going to the hole, getting bumped, taking the hit, taking the contact, making layups, not being scared going off that one leg like you used to, full explosive, full all-out game -- then you’ll be all right. That’s the main thing you’ve got to do,” Hardaway told CSNChicago.com in Miami.
“I got hurt the last day of practice [in 1993 Warriors training camp]. I didn’t make it back on the court until -- I’m talking about playing the game of basketball -- until July, like playing full strength. But I was doing different things. Jogging, doing agility work. I wasn’t playing 2-on-2, 3-on-3, but I was just jogging, doing agility work. What Derrick’s doing, nothing just by myself. But I’d say about July, late July, I started playing real basketball,” Hardaway explained.
Hardaway also linked to Rose by family ties now, went on to talk about his return to competitive action and how he adjusted his game -- from using his killer crossover and exploding to the rim for acrobatic finishes to vastly improving as an outside shooter and despite his size, becoming an extremely effective post-up player -- after his injury.
“I credit the people from Chicago because when I came and I was ready to play. I came home during a summer league in Chicago and they didn’t let up on me. They were right in my face, picking me up full court, making me work hard, getting me back to my game, so I’ll say not that long. It took about a month because I’m very competitive. It didn’t even take a month. Once the competitive juices start flowing, you don’t even think about it. You just go out there and play,” said the former Heat player and current team employee.
“I think it was probably more jump shots, setting up for more jump shots than really going to the hole. My jump shot got a lot better, my free throws got a lot better. Concentrating on what I need to do out on the basketball court got a lot better, my awareness and everything else.”
While Hardaway’s timetable was faster than Rose, he initially struggled after his return and never quite regained the burst he once had, though after modifying his game, he was just as effective and went on to have great success in Miami after being traded by Golden State.
It’s possible Rose is trying to avoid the difficulties associated with an in-season return to the court -- as experienced by Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Chicago native Iman Shumpert of the Knicks this season. While he normally eschews playing pickup games, preferring small workout groups in California alongside Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and others, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him participate in the occasional pro-am game this summer to get some competitive basketball under his belt before Bulls training camp next season.
While it’s become clear that Rose isn’t playing, the Bulls wouldn’t necessarily deny him but a season debut against the Heat, of all teams, would be potentially disastrous, despite un-sourced reports that he could suit up for Friday’s Game 3 in Chicago. But adding to the public frustration is the fact that he refuses to say on the record that he won’t rule it out.
But to say that he’s doing a disservice to his teammates is erroneous. Only recently, according to a source, has the saga become a distraction and not because of Rose himself, but the growing presence of the national media as the playoffs continue, which can detract from the Bulls conducting business as usual at morning shootarounds, for instance. And to say he’s disingenuous when he says he’s unaware of the increasingly hit his image is taking is also false, as this writer can attest that Rose isn’t anything close to a consumer of Twitter, sports-talk radio and the media in general, something that’s always been the case and can at least partly explain his humility.
As long as the same people who insist they’re off the Rose bandwagon once and for all don’t have a selective memory when he returns to the court next season and starts doing Derrick Rose things again, all is well and good.
However, while it’s fine to have a strong opinion about somebody else’s health -- but probably a bit worrisome, as even the most ardent Bulls fans should instead be simply celebrating the team’s success, though the aforementioned faction was probably in the camp that believed Rose’s injury and the dismantling of the “Bench Mob” would result in a lottery-bound campaign -- if a player can evoke such passionate emotions without even playing, wouldn’t it be better to just wait until he’s healthy and appreciate his greatness during the prime years of his career?
After all, if people like Noah are fine with him sitting out and serving as an extra assistant coach and practice body, and people like Hardaway can testify to the struggles of returning from such a serious injury, their words should be good enough, since Rose’s apparently aren’t.