During his recovery from ACL surgery, Chicago Bulls star point guard Derrick Rose told ESPNChicago.com that he would not come back until he was "ready to play," even if that wasn't until next season. In his absence, the Bulls have gone 2-1 thus far and still look like a championship caliber team. With his knee rehab progressing week after week, it's only going to get harder for the 2011 MVP to resist returning in 2012-13.
Given how the Bulls basically crumbled in the playoffs last season after Rose injured his knee in Game 1 of the team's first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, there was every indication that this season would be a lost one. GM Gar Forman brought back Kirk Hinrich to run the point and the electrifying Nate Robinson to come off the bench, but neither man has the same impact Rose does on the Bulls' lineup.
However, the Bulls have looked anything but lost in Rose's absence this year. They are 2-1 and the rest of the team has really picked up the slack, filling the void as their fearless leader continues to recover from his injury.
Thus, given how well the Bulls have played without him, would it really make that much of a difference if he came back at, say, 85 percent? If Chicago keeps up the good play, he'd only be cheating himself by sitting on the sidelines and not helping his teammates finally get over the hump into the world of champions. As of now, his teammates are giving him plenty of reasons to consider coming back at some point this year.
As great as the Bulls have been each of the past two seasons, their second unit never really provided much in terms of balanced offense. This year, however, the bench has done a fine job picking up some of the slack.
Enter Nate Robinson, the three-time Slam Dunk Contest winner who, after falling under the radar in Boston and Oklahoma City, reestablished himself with the Golden State Warriors last season when he averaged 11.2 points per game in 23.7 minutes off the bench. The 5'9" sensation also shot 36 percent from long range, further proving that he can be a solid scorer in the second unit.
In three games for the Bulls, Robinson has averaged 12.7 points, five rebounds and five assists and he is shooting 40 percent from long range.
On the defensive end, Taj Gibson has been phenomenal to the tune of eight points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. With Rose on the floor with them, there's no telling how good Gibson or Robinson could be.
Ever since drafting Rose with the first overall pick in 2008, the Bulls have gone from being a mediocre team to a great one. Were it not for the star point guard being injured in last year's playoffs, the Bulls could have very well made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
Thus, with the team performing well without him, Rose owes it to himself to come back later in the season and get them on that same track. For all we know, he could be the key to the team's overall success late in the season.
If he can get healthy and bring his team far in the playoffs, his value will go through the roof.
For the past few years, one of the more disappointing players in Chicago has been Carlos Boozer. Once a lock for 20 and 10 a game, he has played soft with the Bulls and just looks like a heavy contract that's impossible to move. In his teammate's absence, however, Boozer has really turned on the afterburners.
With the help of center Joakim Noah, Boozer has helped Chicago's frontcourt essentially carry the team and has shown no signs of slowing down. Three games in, he and Noah have combined for 28.4 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 48 percent from the field. Noah is even leading the team in scoring, rebounding, blocking and even steals.
That said, given how Rose is the type of player who makes his team better while also improving himself, it'd be great to see how well he can play with an improved tandem of Boozer and Noah. If they can gel together effectively, then they could become a deadly trio more than capable of giving Miami's Big Three a solid game.
Of course, Rose won't ever know the potential of this situation unless he comes back this season.
In each of his two full seasons as coach of the Bulls, Thibodeau has led his team to the NBA's best record. Combined with Chicago's three games this season, his overall record is 114-37.
Even in the absence of his star player, the man has shown great poise on the sidelines and refused to give up on the season. He has his men playing hard night after night so that they themselves don't take games off while Rose is out. Why is he doing this, one may ask?
Well, in the event that Rose returns this season, perhaps it's so he has a better team to work with from the get-go and doesn't have to immediately shoulder most of the load. Basketball is a team game and while Rose is injured, Thibodeau seems to be putting on a clinic in that department, given the Bulls' good start.
Even with the leader of their team gone, Chicago Bulls fans have continued to show up and support their team. The fact of the matter is that they love the Bulls and not having Rose in the lineup isn't enough reason to stop going to games, which is all the more reason that the former Memphis Tiger should come back and play this season.
Simply put, if a return date is announced for Rose, tickets for his first home game back are going to sell out within minutes. The United Center will be at full capacity and the applause when Rose steps back onto the hardwood will be so raucous that the building itself will be shaking. Can you imagine the euphoria one would feel in that situation?
Thus, if Rose's rehab continues to progress he owes it not only to himself and his teammates to return to the team, but also to the fans that helped make him a household name.