"The Return" might be a bit behind schedule, but it's finally approaching. Following a season where he didn't play, but was still arguably one of the hottest topics in the NBA, after a summer touring Europe and Asia, as well as working out in his usual offseason haunt of California, Derrick Rose stepped on the United Center floor Sunday afternoon.
Clad in shorts, a T-shirt and his newest signature sneaker, the DRose 4, the former league MVP wasn't playing ball -- unless you count goofing around with a handful of the 5,000 or so kids in attendance -- but like every public appearance Rose has made since tearing his left ACL in April 2012, the Chicago native attracted plenty of attention with his mere presence. With Bulls' training camp opening at the end of this week, he also addressed a litany of topics surrounding the upcoming season and his return to the floor.
"Right now, I can tell you that I'll probably be excited, but I don't know how that day is going to be. When I step out there, I'm going to try not to be emotional, try not to let my emotions play a part in the game and go out there, and just ball," he said of the build-up to his first game back in uniform, slated to be the Bulls' Oct. 5 preseason opener in Indiana. "Usually, when I'm on the court, I usually don't think about anything else but just winning that game, so when I step on the court, that's my No. 1 goal: playing hard, getting my team involved and trying to win the game.
"The only thing that changed in my game the most I would have to say is my confidence level and that’s knowing that I put so much into my craft. I’m working hard. I think I’m one of the hardest workers in the NBA, if not the hardest worker, and I think you should see it in my game when I step on the court."
Rose, whose adidas sneaker launch Sunday included a performance by rapper Big Sean, a dunk contest (not involving him) and an appearance by team mascot Benny the Bull, acknowledged that he was tempted to return to the court last season, but also insisted that criticism of his decision not to do so didn't bother him.
"Almost every game, but I had to be smart and really had to think things through. Like I said, I'm 24, I have a bright future. Why not just take strides every day and see when I'm comfortable enough to come back?" Rose explained. "It really didn't faze me. Really, you hear stuff. If you're weak-minded, of course it's going to bother you. But I know that with me, through all the criticism and it feels good that I made it this far, and just looking back at it--and me achieving everything that I've achieved so far.
"They said I couldn't shoot, they said so many things about me and here I am, where I've got my own signature shoe coming and I'm having this big buzz, so for me seeing this success and just knowing that I could care less about what people say about me, that's what keeps me at bay," he continued. "[The Bulls' support has] been great, even going through the process, where they were behind me the whole time. It wasn't any rush--they were telling me to be patient and I listened to them. There wasn't anyone rushing me but a few media people. But who wouldn't want to rush a young player that plays the game the right way back? I understand that."
Regarding his current status, while it's possible to project a non-committal stance from Rose's usual cautious verbiage--he said, "For me, I hope not. I haven't heard anything. For me, I think that I'm fine," and "I hope I'm playing Oct. 5th," when asked about the immediate future--what was truly evident in his demeanor are the giddiness about playing again and high expectations he has for himself.
My minutes, I can't discuss that, but that's something that you can probably ask Thibs and the front office.
"My confidence grew as a player and you'll see that when I play," he said. "I've been feeling that way for a long time. If anything, just putting that memory back in my leg, working out every day, just trying to strengthen my leg, that's the biggest goal. But I'm past that. I'm in training. While I was in L.A., the last month or so, I think I was working out three times a day, just trying to get back on the right track.
"I wouldn't say that, mental hurdles, but I think it's just going to be an emotional day," Rose continued when asked about his state of mind. "Just playing again, being around them, being in the atmosphere of an arena, being in front of people. I haven't had that in a long time.
"I wouldn't say there's a final hurdle. It's just stepping back on the court. I will be happy to be back on the court, be with my teammates."
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Anticipation about his individual performance aside, Rose also professed a strong belief in the Bulls as a team. Although he didn't make any guarantees or predictions, it's clear the point guard is optimistic about the squad's chance to make a title run.
"I think it's close. With the same team, with the nucleus that we have, we made it to the conference finals, so with a couple of plays, that could have easily changed the outcome, but like I said, every player's getting better individually. I think everybody's healed up for this big year. It's just going to take time for me to adjust back to my teammates because they're used to playing with each other," Rose explained. "For this year, I think with the team that we have, we have a young team, but we have a group of guys that’s been together for a long time, so that chemistry is definitely going to help us with next season, seeing that a lot of people got traded other places, but you can only worry about the Bulls and we have a great team, young guys. We have two rookies that’s coming to the team that’s pretty good. Thibs, with him having the knowledge that he has and wanting us to be in a certain place, right in training camp, and just seeing how the guys individually getting better, I think it’s going to be a good year for the Bulls.
"You’ve got to look at it where I missed the whole year. You have the players that’s on the team this year, where they played their butt off last year. The Lus, the Joakims, Booz, even Jimmy. It’s so many players that played hard last year, just trying to get to the playoffs and just trying to prove people wrong, and for me to come back, who knows when I’m going to get my rhythm? It might take one game, it might take five games, 10 games, who knows? But I think me having that relationship with my teammates and them knowing that, and not just depending on me right away and just knowing that I’m just trying to fit in with them, do my job, where my job is to come in and run the game and get them open shots and play aggressive. So I think if the guys on the team know that and me knowing that, too, I think it’s going to be a smooth year and a smooth process," he added. "Our goal this year is just to win a championship. Any award we get for just winning games, of course that's an achievement, don't take me wrong. But our goal is to win a championship.
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"It's a big year, and we're just trying to stay focused and worry about the Bulls, but at the same time, have one goal and that goal is to win a championship."
Rose will have to regain his personal feel for the game and on-court chemistry with his teammates, but even with his long absence from playing in actual NBA games, he believes the lifestyle adjustments he's made--gaining 10 pounds of muscle through weight training and eating better, let alone plenty of work on his outside shooting--will be of tremendous benefit to him.
"Right now, I’m good. Right now, I’m training, working out every day. I call it like ‘Freshie Hell Week,’ where I’ve got a week of training. My trainer’s here, Rob [McClanaghan], and he’s really just pushing me every day, just trying to get me ready for training camp," he said. "Me changing my diet is allowing me to have so much energy and really helping me with my training because I’m going into my training, working hard and the next day, not being sore, and still working hard at the same time, pushing myself. I think it’s allowing me to become a better player.
"You think about it, and-ones. I'm usually good at getting and-ones and just finishing strong, but with the strength that I just got, I think my jump shot is going to be a lot smoother and I think it's going to help me in the long run, when you start thinking about the playoffs and how hard those games are, and even if we make it far, with me continuing to train the same way that I've been training, like twice a week on my legs, and really, my overall body, I think it's going to help me out a lot."
He'll get the opportunity to prove that, hopefully with no more delays, in the very near future.