When news spread that Derrick Rose had participated in five-on-five drills (per ESPN), the excitement the he had deadened with his comments about possibly missing the season were rekindled (per USA Today).
I never put too much stock in Rose's comments about being "far, far away" from a return. We've always known that Rose missing the entire season was a possibility, but he sounded like a frustrated young man who is tired of being asked about the condition of his knee on a daily basis.
Perhaps, he just wanted a little bit of a break from the constant questioning.
It comes with the territory, and if he is indeed as close to a comeback as it appears, he hasn't seen anything yet.
Rose is not only one of the game's best players, but he's also one of the most beloved. He plays in a major market for a team that has had the NBA's best record over the past two seasons.
The Chicago Bulls are 30-22 this year without Rose, so it is only logical to wonder how his return could make the Bulls serious contenders in the East. His return to the lineup would be the biggest story of the second half of the NBA season.
The impact would be felt league-wide.
Indiana Pacers and Central Division Beware
The Bulls are just 1.5 games behind the Pacers in the division, and Rose has yet to take the court this season. The Pacers have played without Danny Granger, but most would say Rose stands to make a bigger impact upon his return.
If Rose is back to form in a month or so, it is entirely feasible to think the Bulls should surpass the Pacers in the division.
This would be significant because it would guarantee the Bulls a top-three seed in the playoffs and put them in striking distance of the team currently holding the No. 2 spot.
The New York Knicks Aren't Safe Either
Assuming the Knicks hold off the Brooklyn Nets' charge in the Atlantic Division, they wouldn't be out of the Bulls' reach as the second seed in the East. As of now, they hold just a three-game advantage over Chicago.
That isn't an insurmountable lead by any stretch, and it is even possible the Bulls could close that gap without Rose. They have healthy players returning to action after the All-Star break, and it should serve as a boost for the team heading into the stretch run.
Having Rose on the court would theoretically make things better for the Bulls.
With or Without Rose, the Bulls Won't Catch the Miami Heat in the Standings
Even if Rose returns, the Heat's lead is too big (seven games), and the team is too good for the Bulls to catch them in the standings.
However, if the Bulls can obtain the second seed, it would seemingly place them on a collision course with the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Chicago would have home-court advantage in all series leading up to that potential showdown, and with Rose presumably playing at—or close to—100 percent, it would be the favorite over any team in the East except the Heat.
The hype and attention this series would receive would be second only to a Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers playoff series or a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals. Unless the Lakers right the ship soon, both seem unlikely.
The Bulls in the NBA Finals?
Let's not get carried away too soon. There are more "ifs" in this situation than there are facts. But, in the best-case scenario, Rose puts the Bulls over the top and they topple the mighty Heat to reach the NBA Finals.
Even with a healthy Rose, I'd still pick the Heat to win that series. I don't see a big enough difference in this team and the one that lost to the Heat in five games during the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.
In addition to that, the Heat are definitely a better team now than they were then.
But for the sake of speculation, let's say that happens. The NBA Finals matchup is almost assured to feature an epic point guard battle.
You'd have to figure that either the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or Clippers will emerge from the West. That would mean Rose would be going head-to-head with either Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker or Chris Paul in a best-of-seven series.
Any of those matchups would put the point guard position front and center in the NBA in a way that it hasn't been since the 2003 NBA Finals. That year, a young Parker outplayed the New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd and helped lead the Spurs to an NBA championship.
Even that wouldn't be on par with what we'd see in these scenarios. Rose and the three top lead guards from the West are all established stars. Parker was not yet on that level in 2003.
If you don't buy Porter as an elite point guard, then the prior year will universally qualify. In 1989, Thomas and the Pistons battled Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
Either way, it's been a long time since we've seen elite point guards go head-to-head on the NBA's biggest stage.
The Bucket of Cold Water
Bulls fans have every right to be excited. Rose is dynamic, exciting and should make an already good team even better. But as I mentioned, there are a ton of "ifs."
Almost all of these scenarios are based on Rose returning at all. There is still a chance that he does indeed sit out the entire season.
There is also a question of whether Rose will be the same player he was when we last saw him. A torn ACL isn't the death wish it once was for an athlete's career, but not everybody is like Adrian Peterson.
Bulls fans can only hope Rose responds anywhere near as well as Peterson did this past NFL season. If he does, the Bulls will be as tough an out as any team in the NBA.
Even if Rose is up to snuff, there could be chemistry issues early on. They aren't likely to be rooted in selfishness, as this team has top-notch character. But there are a few players on the team (Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson) that Rose has never played with in an actual game.
There could be an adjustment period for new teammates.
It's easy to look at the Bulls and say, "The team has been averaging 93.1 points per game, and Rose is a great scorer, so that number should increase."
That could be the case, but the defense could suffer early as the team learns to communicate.
The Bulls will be cautious with Rose should he return, and I don't blame them. Another injury would be an incalculable blow to the organization. But limiting his minutes will only slow the process of re-acllimating him to the normal flow.
These are realistic issues Rose and the Bulls could face when and if their star returns this season. While seeing Rose back on the United Center floor would be great for the team, city and the league, it would be wise to proceed with caution.