It's been nearly 15 months since Derrick Rose landed awkwardly after a jump stop in the late stages of a playoff win, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and altering two seasons' worth of reality for a Chicago Bulls team whose title hopes rested nearly as much on the MVP point guard's ability to slice and dice as they did on an elite defense created by coach Tom Thibodeau and orchestrated by center Joakim Noah. Rose's highly anticipated return from surgery and rehabilitation was first expected to come around the All-Star break in February, about a month after he'd begun taking "predictable contact" in team workouts.
As you surely know, that didn't happen. Rose continued to sit out despite being cleared by Chicago's medical staff for game action in early March, despite unsourced reports that he'd play from popular rappers and despite showing in pregame warmups that he can explode to the basket off his left leg; he did not return to the Bulls at all last season. It was a decision supported by opponents and teammates alike, but also one that frustrated many Chicago fans who found Rose's insistence on not returning until he felt fully ready (regardless of what the doctors said) somewhat maddening.
As the summer's worn on, we've heard Thibodeau say Rose looks "great" and we've heard Rose say he "had to be selfish" in his rehab, but we hadn't heard the words all Bulls fans — and fans of other teams who love stuff that's great and awesome — really wanted to hear. Until today, that is.
From Rose's comments at an Adidas event in Madrid, Spain, according to Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype:
"I should be able to play in the first game of season," Rose said. "I know I'm anxious right now to play. My health is everything right now, it's 100 percent. But right now, the first game ... I will definitely be playing it."
OK, cool — so when the Bulls tip off the 2013-14 regular season, Derrick Rose will make his first appearance since April 2012. Awesome.
Hmm? What's that, HoopsHype? Keep reading? Well, OK:
"We will play in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil [October 12], the first NBA game ever in Rio, so that's going to be a big game not only for the Bulls but for the NBA. Just some minutes out there, see how it feels just to be back on the court and enjoy the experience."
Oh, so Rose will be available for preseason play (albeit, we're sure, in very, very limited doses)? So much the better.
On some level, this news will surely spark some eye-rolling among Bulls fans — "Oh, wow, you're saying you'll 'definitely' be ready to go 18 months after an injury that typically carries a recovery time half that long. Thanks a pantload, Chet." And that, of course, is a reasonable perspective. Still, given how emotionally and mentally taxing this rehab has clearly been for the former No. 1 overall pick, hearing Rose say that he feels "just strong as I've been" mentally as he gets ready for the season seems like a plus.
So does the approach Rose says he's taken to getting with his teammates early and often this summer:
"This next season is huge for us," Rose said. "We're definitely a contender for the title this year. I've been talking to my guys, trying to be more vocal as a leader, just texting them, calling them, just trying to communicate with them to let them know that I will be there next year."
Thibodeau, for his part, recently told reporters covering the Bulls at Las Vegas Summer League that he knows Rose is "anxious to get started" and is "feeling as well as he has in a long, long time," according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
"You can't be out the amount of time that he has been without going through an adjustment period when he comes back," Thibodeau said. "That will be normal. But from a physical and mental standpoint he's terrific. We feel good that we have Kirk [Hinrich] backing him up. That's a big plus.
"We're going to see what he can handle first. We're not anticipating big limitations on him. But the preseason, that's what that is there for. We'll see how those minutes unfold. Then we'll get started in the regular season. He'll be fine."
We certainly hope so — before his injury, Rose was one of the league's truly transcendent athletic specimens, a player capable of jaw-dropping feats of athleticism and on-court grace. He'll have an awful lot to live up to when he comes back; here's hoping a year and a half's enough time to get back to this level of form.
Hat-tip to Spencer Lund at Dime on the Rose fan video.