Although Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has progressed far enough in his rehab to take part in five-on-five workouts, nobody will be satisfied until the former MVP actually suits up for an NBA game.
There's a great unknown regarding Rose's return, and the pressure is closing in on him, threatening to stifle what should be a comeback that happens on his own terms.
The Return, Brought to You by Adidas
It all started with Rose's prime endorser, Adidas, putting out an inspiring campaign that might ultimately be doing more harm than good. Well, harm to Rose, anyway. Adidas' bottom line certainly hasn't suffered, as the company has itself a terrific story to put behind the shoes it's hawking.
According to Christopher Heine of Adweek, Adidas has seen an explosion in national recognition since launching its "Return" campaign:
For instance, Return of D Rose has been a national trending topic on Twitter three times, according to Adidas. Twitter followers for @adidasbasketball have soared by 100 percent, Facebook chatter about the brand has jumped 200 percent, and the effort's YouTube videos have been viewed 7 million times...online searches for the basketball player's new sneaker—the D Rose 3—skyrocketed by 400 percent..
Yeah, Rose is all in. But if all of the momentum generated by his shoe company has him pushing his chips into the middle of the table before he's ready, then he's risking a pretty bad beat.
It's unlikely that Rose is going to rush back just to please his marketers, but because his return now has something of a messianic quality attached to it, there's certainly a sense of pressure that otherwise wouldn't exist.
A True Savior
Endorsement checks and YouTube videos aside, Rose might be feeling even more pressure to return because of what his team is going through this season.
After finishing fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency last year and 12th the year before, the Bulls have dropped all the way to 25th in 2012-13. Granted, Rose played just 39 games last year when the Bulls put together their best offensive season of the post-Michael Jordan era.
But there's no getting around the fact that Chicago is a one-dimensional, defensive team without Rose and a dynamic championship contender with him.
Think of it this way: The Bulls are currently just two games out of the second spot in the East despite having one of the league's worst offenses. If Rose were around to drag their scoring output up by even a small amount, they'd be threatening the Miami Heat for the No. 1 seed instead of slugging it out in the middle of the playoff pack.
More than any other outside source, watching his team struggle without him must weigh on Rose's mind, maybe even to the point of fostering thoughts of an early return.
Looking Out for No. 1
To his credit, Rose has indicated that he won't rush his comeback, telling Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
I'm not coming back until I'm 110%. 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 may not be what Rose's teammates or endorsers want to hear, but it's definitely the best path to take.
The truth is that there is too much pressure on Rose to return. Fortunately, he currently seems capable of shrugging it off and sticking to his own plan.
But as the year winds down and the Bulls start to position themselves for a final postseason push, it seems likely that the ultra-competitive Rose could start to fall in line with all of the outside sources clamoring for a comeback.
He's held up so far, but that's the thing about pressure: It has a way of building up until it's too powerful to contain. Hopefully, for Rose's sake, he'll continue to let the small steps of his rehab process serve as outlets for that pressure.
Eventually, when he's ready, Rose will hit the release valve by returning to the court. If that doesn't happen as soon as Adidas and the Bulls would like, so be it.
Rose has to look out for No. 1.