With their elimination from the playoffs at the hands of the Heat, the never-ending story that loomed over the Bulls’ entire season -- will or won’t Derrick Rose return? -- is also over.
Now that they don’t have to keep up the charade of acting like he could return to action at any possible moment, the former league MVP’s teammates and coaches were asked to open up about the entire saga.
Unsurprisingly, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau remained resolute in his support of Rose, who has been criticized by fans, media and even former and current players -- NBA analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and former Bulls guard Steve Kerr voiced their opinions on the subject, and even Washington rookie Bradley Beal chimed in Friday, saying “I think he’s scared” -- about his decision not to play.
“At the end of the day, he had to do what he felt was right. Whether it’s praise or criticism, you can’t be impacted by that. You have to do what you feel is right,” the coach explained. "He did that. It’s a very serious injury and so, he has put a lot of work into it. He hasn’t taken any shortcuts with that. He’s been diligent. He’ll continue to be diligent throughout the summer and he’ll be ready to go next year.”
Teammate Taj Gibson claimed that, like Rose, he was unaware of the public’s lack of sympathy toward the Chicago native, asking, “What were they saying?”
“That’s what comes with the job we do. I’m still recovering from the Game 2 [ejection in the Eastern Conference semifinals]. I still have fans basically ripping me to shreds. But you just have to take it with a grain of salt, keep pushing. That’s what comes with this job. You’ve got a lot of people who want you to do certain things at a certain time that you [don’t] feel is right for yourself. You just have to take it with a grain of salt,” Gibson continued. “At the end of the day, once he goes on the court, it’s just basketball. That’s what he loves to do, that’s the reason he’s in the NBA, to play basketball. I think he’ll be great after a long summer, just playing and competing the way I know he’s capable of doing. I think he’ll be fine.
Gibson denied that Rose’s absence, yet the media’s focus on him, affected the Bulls negatively.
“I wouldn’t say it was a distraction. I just think that it was more aggravating. Every day, you’re just talking about Derrick’s injury. Just let him recover first. It’s already hard enough, knowing you just hurt yourself at a pivotal time, when you’re trying to compete for a championship,” he explained. “Then, you’ve got to come back and you’ve got to have the whole world asking your teammates about you, basically. That’s got to be one of the most frustrating things. Nobody can tell you about yourself but yourself.”
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The backup big man acknowledged that during Bulls practices, Rose showed flashes of his previous form, but as tantalizing as the South Side product's presence was, he refrained from speculating as to when he would return to action.
“I didn’t really know. I thought that he looked pretty good in practice but it’s up to him. When it comes to injuries like that, you can’t really tell what a guy’s feeling like inside so you just have to support him and that’s what he did. I think he did the right thing now that the season’s over. Now he can just focus on basketball and focus on coming back. The pressure is mostly on when you come back because now everybody is going to expect to see him at 110 percent. There’s no excuses then. I believe he will,” Gibson said. “I think he looked just like his old self at some points in the practices. I think after the summer and the guys get back together after working out, he will be even better.”
Thibodeau echoed: “He looked good. But the big thing was he didn’t have the comfort level that he needed to play. He wanted very badly to be out there. And he made a good decision, I think. We told him from the beginning: We want you to be completely comfortable before you get out there. He wasn’t swayed by anybody other than doing what he thought was right. He put a lot of work into his rehab. He never quite got to the point where he felt comfortable enough to play. So he did the right thing. And now he has the whole summer to build confidence. And we’ll move forward from there.”
The coach added that the Bulls will be monitoring Rose’s ongoing rehabilitation “a lot,” even as the point guard works out in Southern California, as he does every offseason.
“He’ll be coming back here, we’ll go out there,” he said. “But I think it’s important.”