LOS ANGELES — Being not only a Chicago-area native, but a personal friend of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, his former assistant in Boston, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was understandably disappointed by Derrick Rose’s right medial meniscus tear, suffered Friday night in Portland.
“It’s awful. You want Derrick playing. I was telling Thibs this, it was funny. I was watching the game and I was telling one of my assistants, ‘He’s about to break loose.’ You could just feel it. You just felt like he was just about to break loose and then that happens,” said Rivers, a graduate of Proviso East High School in Maywood, Ill. “I’m just hoping he’s back, healthy this year. It would be great obviously for Thibs, but more importantly, it would be great for the Bulls and great for Derrick. He deserves it.”
Rivers said the potential bright side to Rose’s injury is that the Bulls could have a more specific timetable of when the point guard would return, if he does indeed come back this season. The fact that the Bulls played all of last season without Rose also helps, in Rivers’ opinion.
“They’ll be fine. They know how to play without him. They’ve gone through it. From a coaching standpoint, I think they’re really looking forward to knowing exactly, the length,” he explained. “We dealt with Kevin [Garnett], [Rajon] Rondo. We had these injuries in Boston and I always thought it was easier to know, than the unknown: ‘He’ll be back in a week, he’ll be back in two weeks.’ I think it’s much easier when you know the exact time. It just helps the other guys and their focus.”
The Clippers head coach, who also makes personnel decisions for the organization, suggested that the Bulls could use Rose’s absence as a motivator, at least in the short term.
“Well, I think in their minds. But you don’t just lose a Derrick Rose or a Chris Paul and think you’re better. Of course, a lot of guys think it’s their time now. But you still lose Derrick Rose,” he said before his team hosted the Bulls. “You know that first game, they’re always ready. It’s the third and fourth game, I felt like, when the team starts realizing, ‘Wow, he’s not here.’ The first couple last year without Rondo, what did we win? Like eight in a row or seven in a row, then we realized that Rondo wasn’t coming back. We turned a whole different way and I think that’s how they’ll be. They are a dangerous, angry team, which is what I told our guys and we have to be ready for that.”
At the same time, Rivers acknowledged that possibly having to go deeper in the rotation and rely on seldom-used role players to play major minutes isn’t ideal.
“I don’t want to say the coach’s name, but he always tells me, ‘You don’t want to learn about two through 12,’” Rivers quipped. “But you will, you’ll find out some stuff. I think you always discover one guy, maybe that wasn’t playing a lot. You’ll find that guy and Tom will find that guy, whoever that is. It could be [Marquis] Teague. He’s playing, he may play more and be more comfortable. It could be someone else. I don’t know if you find them all, but you find one guy that you add to your rotation.”
Rivers, a former NBA guard, came back from ACL surgery during his own playing career, so he can relate to Rose’s plight.
“It was hard. I talked about this a year ago and for me, I think it was my eighth or ninth year, I had my ACL. It was hard. I had to go to Pat Riley, who was the coach, and I just begged him that I didn’t want to go to the games anymore. I wanted to get away and it’s hard when you’re a player, especially like Rose. It’s tough. It really is.
"The rehab is brutal, but more importantly, you’re sitting there, you’re not a part of it. It’s really, just mentally, very difficult. I can’t imagine it in back-to-back years. That’s really very difficult,” he explained. “That’s the tough part because you don’t know. The unknown. I was right on the cusp, thank gosh, of the ACL, where you could actually come back and play. Previously, like Bernard King, it was over for the most part, even though he made an All-Star team after that. But it’s tough because what makes a player like a Rose or any of those guys is their confidence and when that starts getting questioned, it’s tough. I’m just happy it’s not an ACL, but we have to wait and see what actually happens when they go in. But the mental part, that’s the whole key now for Derrick.”