DEERFIELD, ILL. — A familiar scene after the Bulls’ morning shootaround developed Thursday at the Berto Center: Derrick Rose doing extended shooting drills, frustrated on his rare misses and the assembled media patiently watching him while waiting to see if any of his teammates would be willing to grant a game-day interview.
By the time Rose was finished, all of his teammates had left and the press corps expected the media-availability session to subsequently conclude.
Instead, in a flashback to seasons past, Rose walked directly over to the area designated for interviews and began talking.
“Still taking my time,” he responded to the first question, about how he felt physically. “Still trying to be patient, listen to my body and just be patient right now.”
Rose went on to speak for more than five minutes, answering a variety of questions about his health and while he was being candid, the only logical destination one could come to afterward is that the former league MVP, like everyone else observing the ongoing saga, has no idea when he’ll again play in an NBA game.
“It could be tomorrow and I could feel like I could play the next game,” he said. “Nobody knows but God.”
Rose explained that the NBA’s regular-season schedule has no bearing on his timetable—or lack thereof—when it comes to his comeback, even though there is less than a month left before the playoffs begin.
“Not at all. I feel like when I’m ready to come back, I’ll be ready, no matter when it is. I don’t care. Whenever I’m ready, I’ll be out there,” Rose said. “[I wants to return] bad, but knowing that my health is the biggest key, where I’m only 24 years old, got the whole future in front of me, so just trying to take my time.
“It’s tough, definitely challenging, but having my teammates behind and my team behind me, with B.J., my brother and my family, they made everything smooth, so just trying to ride this wave and hopefully I’ll be out there,” he continued. “I really don’t know [what percentage he would rate his health] right now. I wouldn’t place a percentage on it. I just know that I’m close and I’m taking every day serious and just becoming a professional.”
[MORE: Hinrich, Gibson could return to the Bulls' lineup]
Still, he acknowledged that he’s made significant progress.
“I’m way stronger, but just seeing how I’m going to put that into my game, I don’t know yet, but just trying to—when we’re playing five-on-five—just trying to pick the right spots and really just trying to find out how strong I am,” Rose said about his increased physical strength, which is evident upon seeing him, particularly in the upper body. “[I am doing] everything: core work and just me at home doing sit-ups, whatever. Just working on my body, so when I come back, giving myself the best chance to be a better player.
“My activity picked up a little bit, so just getting used to running, playing five-on-five, just doing everything like I used to do it,” he added. “During five-on-five, I think I’m very comfortable when I’m out there playing. If anything, it’s much easier because I can shoot the ball way better.”
Conversely, the point guard admitted to not being quite at the level he—and fans—are used to seeing.
“[My knee is] still about the same, where when you warm up a little bit it gets loose, then the activity picks up and it gets back sore, so just playing through that,” Rose explained. “Sometimes you kind of think a little bit when I’m out there and that’s how I know when I’ll be ready to play. When I’m not out there thinking; I’ll just be reacting.
“[My explosiveness is] coming. I’m not panicking or anything. If anything, I think I’m going to be a better player. I’m just taking my time, like I said. I’m just being patient, doing all the right things, eating right and getting rest,” he went on to say. “I haven’t done my vertical—I think I lost some height in my vertical last year—so jumping-wise, I shouldn’t have to worry about that.”
If the circus surrounding his recovery process and his potential return this season are affecting him, the soft-spoken South Side native could have a career in the film industry after his basketball career ends, as he’s appeared unflappable throughout it all.
“I’m used to it,” he insisted, before sounding very much like his coach, Tom Thibodeau, who said minutes before that Rose was “most likely out” for Thursday night’s game against Portland at the United Center. “Just trying to stay focused, try not to listen to a lot of people on the outside and just do my job, and my job is to come in and push hard every day and my trainers have been doing a great job of making sure I’m taking care of that, and just try to get out there as quickly as possible.”
Rose also claimed he isn’t putting much credence into how fellow ACL victims like Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio and New York’s Iman Shumpert, a Chicago-area native, are faring since returning to the court, though as always, he’s taking the positives from their performances.
“Not really. Everybody’s different, so I watch them play here and there,” he said. “They’re playing good basketball, so it gives me a lot of confidence, so that when I come back, I know that I should be all right.”
But perhaps the key takeaway from the impromptu interview is the fact that Rose believes he has the full support of his teammates—eliminating the increasingly-whispered storyline that the rest of the Bulls are growing impatient with him—and although he’s inspired by their M.A.S.H.-unit play this season, he’s not short-sighted enough to rush his return, understanding that gravity of the long-term effects of whatever decision he makes.
“It’s big, man. When I’ve got my teammates behind me and they see how hard I’m pushing in practice, and I see how hard they’re fighting for me on the court, it makes me want to go harder,” he said. “It makes me want to be out there, too. But you’ve got to look at the big picture.”