A year ago, an always soft-spoken yet somewhat timid Derrick Rose sat in front of reporters and talked about the patience required of him while rehabbing his torn ACL. Rumors had swirled about the former MVP returning after the All-Star Break, but as that date passed and the Bulls continued on into the playoffs, Rose remained patient while continuing to watch from the sidelines.
But now a fully rehabbed Rose — who earlier in the month dubbed himself 100 percent healthy — has a new outlook on the season, and it’s apparent from listening to him speak that nearly 17 months away from game action has given him the confidence to get back out on the court and be the same dominating force he was before he tumbled to the floor in Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals two seasons ago.
“I think I’m going to play the same way,” Rose said. “I think the only thing that changed in my game is my confidence level. I think I’m way more confident in my craft and my game. I worked a whole year, trained my body a whole year and going out there and really showing people that I’m the same player, but I’m a more efficient player, is what I’m trying to prove.”
After a whirlwind summer full of personal workouts in Los Angeles, as well as shoe tours across Asia and Europe with Adidas, Rose will finally get the chance to show off that confidence level when the Bulls open practice tomorrow morning at the Berto Center in Deerfield.
General manager Gar Forman said he tentatively expects Rose to see action in each of the Bulls’ eight preseason games — beginning Oct. 5 in Indiana — and head coach Tom Thibodeau said he’ll likely use his point guard in six-to-eight-minute spans to begin with, but the main determinant of his early playing time will be a combination of Rose’s comfort level and management’s observation.
From the very beginning Forman, Thibodeau, Rose and owner Jerry Reinsdorf had said they weren’t going to take any shortcuts in Rose’s recovery process, and even though the three-time All-Star feels back to where he was pre-injury — even better off in some areas — the process will still be fluid as he becomes more acclimated to the game and gets back up to speed, something he admitted there was no substitute for during his rehab. The Bulls will monitor Rose’s process before setting a baseline — or ceiling — as to how little or how much court time Rose will see in the preseason, which could roll over into the beginning of the regular season.
“We have some parameters in place. We’re not going to know until he gets out there, so we’re not going to skip any steps. We’ll see how he practices, then once he gets into the game, the general rule of thumb in the preseason, you start off, you’re pacing the entire team and obviously his time will be a little bit shorter, but we’ll see what happens,” Thibodeau said. “He looked fine. Obviously what the summer’s done is given him an opportunity to continue to build strength, gain confidence. So he looks great, he’s ready for the next step. He’s been out for a long time, so there will be some rust, but he’s raring to go.”
Though Rose said the only part of his game that will seem different is his confidence, he also admitted that the range of his jump shot should improve as well. Limitations post-surgery on how much side-to-side movement and explosive leaps his healing knee could handle, Rose put in extra time on the perimeter to help shore up a part of his game that, if improved, could improve his already outstanding versatility further.
Rose also said that, as part of his improved confidence in his skill set, he won’t change any of his fast-paced, crash-course game driving to the lane and attacking the basket.
“I think I’m going to play the same way,” Rose said. “I think if you work hard in any sport or anything that you’re doing that you’re going to have a confidence level that’s pretty high because you know other people aren’t doing the same thing.”
When asked if his point guard will look any different post-surgery, Thibodeau made the accurate observation that each healthy season Rose has arrived in Deerfield with an added improvement to his game. Still just 24 years old, Rose has a long way to go before reaching his peak as a player, injury or not.
“I think you’ll see that continued growth,” Thibodeau said. “He continually adds to his game. I think he has a great understanding of his teammates’ strengths and weaknesses. He’ll get our team to play to its strengths, cover up its weaknesses. He’s great at running a team, so it may change some, just because of the things that he’s gone through.”
Forman called Rose “as determined a player as I’ve ever been around,” so hearing about his rigorous workouts in Los Angeles and continued rehab in Chicago did not come as much of a surprise. But for Rose himself, hearing about his teammates’ busy offseasons, improving health and similar work ethic only wanted the former MVP to work that much harder.
“Me knowing that and hearing from my teammates while I was in LA, it pushed me to become a better player, pushed me harder in workouts because I didn’t want to come into camp out of shape or out of conditioning while they were on top of their stuff,” Rose said. “I’m happy to be here and seeing everybody is working hard.”
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Joakim Noah’s feet are in good condition, Luol Deng has recovered from a nasty illness and the rest of the Bulls core is rested up as they begin a new season with the same old championship expectations.
Only this time, they’ll have their leader on the court instead of the sidelines.
“The thing that drives me is winning a championship. I think that’s the only thing on my resume that I’m missing,” Rose said. “This is a great time to do it, where everybody’s watching, it’s the biggest stage you could possibly play on.
“And my teammates, they’re preparing themselves for a big year and I am, too. So it should be a crazy, magical year.”