The article amassed 64 reader comments, much more than my modest pieces are used to receiving, many of which echoed the same sentiment:
"THEY BETTER NOT SCREW THIS UP BY RUSHING HIM BACK TOO FAST!"
Let me start by saying this: I get where you're coming from, Bulls fans. If nothing else, I beg you believe me of that.
I understand your argument, and I'm well-acquainted with the perils of over-exerting Rose upon his return. Despite neither hailing from Chicago, nor supporting your team for any specific reason, in this given season—where the alternative Eastern Conference champions appear to be Miami and New York—I only want the absolute best for your ball club.
Which is exactly why I disagree with that sentiment.
Now I'm not saying Tom Thibodeau should pretend the injury never happened. That would be absurd. Rose can't handle the 37-minute-per-game workload that helped define his first four NBA seasons—at least not out of the gate.
But to suggest that the Bulls don't need a significant contribution from Rose in the regular season? Please. Open your eyes.
I can't remember the last time any NBA conference has seen a competitive kerfuffle quite like the 2013 East standings. Chicago has played about as well as they can without such a vital piece, and as a result, it finds itself just 2.5 games behind Miami for the conference's top seed. But even with a myriad of breaks going in their favor, they also find themselves just three games clear of Milwaukee for seventh.
When I say breaks going in their favor, I mean castoffs like Nate Robinson providing Top 15 PER production at point guard. Or how about an unknown youngster like Jimmy Butler blossoming into the spitting image of his mentor, Luol Deng? With even a slight regression from those two prime regression candidates, the present-state Bulls could slip to the bottom of the playoff picture in no time at all.
Hopefully, I shouldn't have to tell you how important such a decline would be. If the playoffs started today, a third-place finish would mean home-court advantage against the "we won't even pretend we care about going to the foul line" Atlanta Hawks.
On the flip side, a seventh-place finish would mean four potential road games (in the World's Most Famous Arena, no less) against the "holy crap this team is built for playoff basketball" New York Knicks.
Consensus seems to say that the Bulls can't afford to rely on Rose in the regular season. I think they can't afford not to.
Even if he only regains a modicum of his explosion, Rose would immediately fortify some of Chicago's problems on the perimeter (specifically, every minute Kirk Hinrich spends on the court). Just the pretense of his playmaking is enough to loosen up defenses. Rose can't handle his normal workload, but every minute he spends on the court is a minute the Bulls are a better team.
And of him tiring out by the postseason, I ask, what about the rest of the team? Chicago has managed to play so well in his absence because they're the hardest working team in basketball. Why is a tired Derrick Rose more fatal than a tired Joakim Noah?
With their leader back at the helm, playing at least significant minutes, Chicago might be able to get some easy victories. They might be able to rest their exhausted frontcourt (Luol Deng is tied with Kevin Durant for the NBA lead in minutes per game) in a couple fourth quarters. If allowed to thrive, Derrick Rose could help this team secure home-court advantage and improve their collective playoff stamina.
And then there's the obvious. I've put off the inevitable Adrian Peterson allusion for as long as possible. Every ACL tear is, obviously, its own separate case and deserves to be treated as such. But I'd be remiss to ignore the likeness completely.
Just eight-plus months removed from tearing his ACL and MCL, Peterson started in Week 1 for the Vikings this year, and managed to look...um...healthy over the course of the season.
Rose is now almost nine months removed from his injury.
The Vikings' didn't rely on Peterson at the start of the season quite like they did at the end. But they didn't "ease" him back into action, either. After 17 and 16 carries in Weeks 1 and 2, he proceeded to carry it 25 times the following Sunday.
Had they not been willing to throw him into the fire as such, one could argue he wouldn't have looked so darn good down the stretch.
One can only hope that the Bulls were taking notes.