The Chicago Bulls got some great news on Monday.
Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com reports that Derrick Rose participated in five-on-five practice for the first time since his knee injury.
And the Chicagoans rejoice. The NBA MVP for 2010-11 is nearly back.
Unfortunately, only 29 games remain in the season, so D-Rose has just eight weeks to get back into game shape before the playoffs start.
And is it worth it for Chicago to rush back a star player and risk another injury for him? No, probably not.
But if Rose does not return this season, the Bulls can kiss their title hopes goodbye.
Without Rose, Chicago is assured of an exit from the playoffs in the first or second round.
Getting to 110 Percent or Giving 110 Percent?
I understand being extremely wary of him coming back too soon. The Bulls must to talk to the doctors and do their due diligence before they clear him to play.
Last year, Rose went down late in the Bulls' Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Chicago lost four of the next five games and became only the fifth one-seed in history to lose a series to an eight-seed.
The estimated recovery time for Rose's devastating ACL injury was anywhere from eight months to a year. And perhaps longer.
But he's back at five-on-five practice, so he should return to the lineup everyday, right? Well, not so fast.
On Feb. 13, Rose told Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
I'm not coming back until I'm 110 percent. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready.
That doesn't really paint a very rosy picture for Bulls fans.
With any injury that requires surgery, but especially a knee injury, it's important to be patient with rehab. D-Rose is probably just repeating the words of his doctors.
But it is significant that Rose said he won't return until he's "110 percent," as opposed to "whenever the doctors clear me to play."
Last season, Jeremy Lin was lambasted in the media for saying he couldn't play in the playoffs because his knee was only "85 percent" (per Ian O'Connor of ESPNNewYork.com).
Well, that's 25 percent less than the 110 that Rose requires.
Rose also spoke to local reporters that day, saying: "I really don't know. I'm feeling good, but like I said, if it's where it's taking me a long time and I'm still not feeling right, I don't mind missing this year" (via Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com).
That's the kind of language that will make Bulls fans' blood boil. "I don't mind missing this year" sounds like he doesn't mind missing the playoffs and torpedoing his team. It sounds like he doesn't burn with the passion of a winner in his heart.
The Resurgent Bulls
But that's merely my conjecture. Some things are certain, one of being that the Chicago Bulls are playing pretty good basketball without their marquee player.
This season's prospects looked gloomy for Chicago, but they have jelled since losing Rose. Different role players have emerged—the much-maligned Carlos Boozer is enjoying a fine renaissance and unknown quantities like Jimmy Butler have blossomed.
The Bulls emerged from the All-Star break with a win and they're now 31-22, good for fifth place in the East. They're six-and-a-half games out of first and a game back of the division-leading Indiana Pacers.
But the bottom line is that Chicago lacks elite guard play. The teams that make the playoffs tend to have the best defenses in the league, and there's really not a true playmaker on the Bulls roster that opponents need to lose sleep over.
That's why Rose would be a boon even if he's not at 100 percent.
Letting Down Their Guard
Chicago's backcourt scoring has come by piecemeal so far, with no one assuming the leadership role in Rose's stead.
Here are the stats for the Bulls' rotation of guards: Richard Hamilton (10.6 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting), Kirk Hinrich (7.0 PPG on 37.8 FG percent), Marco Belinelli (9.6 PPG on 40.5 FG percent) and Nate Robinson (11.9 PPG on 43.5 FG percent).
None of the four average more than 2.6 rebounds per game, and it speaks volumes about their ball movement that center Joakim Noah is second on the team with 4.1 assists a night.
While the shooting numbers could be better (especially Hinrich's), the scoring averages are more than serviceable. But on any given night, Chicago just has to hope that one player out of that quartet can put up big numbers.
The Bulls can't rely solely on their great frontcourt, even if the tandem of Luol Deng, Boozer and Noah is the best in the NBA.
Robinson and Belinelli can be very streaky shooters, Hinrich has lost his touch for scoring and Rip is 35 years old.
Faced with those guys at the 1 and 2, defenses can just blanket the frontcourt. They don't have to respect the perimeter jump shot unless the Bulls get lucky with their Russian roulette backcourt.
Whoever the Bulls take on in the first round of the playoffs, the prospects are slim against the best teams in the East. And I won't even get into how talented the West is.
The defenses will be stouter under the brightest lights and Chicago will be in need of a playmaker.
Using ESPN's Player Efficiency Rating (PER), no Bulls player is in the top 50. Nate Robinson is 57th.
Currently, Chicago averages just 92 possessions per game, making them the third slowest offense in the league. They've got the fourth best defense, as rated by points allowed per possession, but they're 21st in offense (via ESPN).
Simply put, they don't have the chops on offense to advance any further than the second round.
With Chicago figuring to take on one of either the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers, I'd be very nervous if I was coach Tom Thibodeau.
While the Bulls have won all three games that they played against the Knicks, they are just 1-3 against the Nets and Pacers. And the Knicks will be out for revenge.
The Pacers will also have their leading scorer from the last five seasons, Danny Granger, returning soon.
The team announced on their Twitter account that they're "going to hold him out" of Wednesday's game, but his return is imminent.
If only Rose could give his team such good news.
This isn't like baseball with an innings limit. Rose is not Stephen Strasburg. If he's good to go and the doctors say so, then get him out there!
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