And while some recent news could be construed as promising, it’s become readily apparent that there won’t be any light emanating from that cloud anytime soon.
A great deal of people have put a ton of stock into Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau calling Rose “day-to-day.” Those words carry a weighty connotation in the sports world, usually amounting to “soon.” So many ran with the off-handed remark, and speculation ran rampant that Rose would be hitting the United Center hardwood before we knew it.
Only Thibodeau’s quote continued.
"Day-to-day. So whenever he's ready, he's ready,” said Thibodeau (via ESPN). “We just want him to continue to improve, focus on his rehab, and then when he's ready to go we'll all know. Everyone has to remain patient.”
Take out the “day-to-day” part. It looks exactly like what Thibodeau has been saying the entire season. Rose will be ready whenever he’s ready, and the Bulls are going to continue taking the situation as it comes.
Thibodeau’s quote also sounds a whole lot like the argument “controversial” pundits make when they say “Rose should only come back when he’s ready.” That's an inane conjectural statement made by those who don't have a leg to stand on. Of course Rose will only come back when he’s ready. Does the wind also pick up a bit in the Greater Chicago area?
But it’s up to Rose—and Rose only—to assess the risks and determine when the time comes. Based on what we’ve heard lately, it shouldn’t—and likely won’t—be during the 2012-13 season.
As of now, Rose isn’t ready for game action. He’s returned to the practice floor, playing in 5-on-5 drills with the starting lineup, but don’t mistake that for full health. NBA.com’s David Aldridge reported that Rose still feels a “pinch” in his knee when going right. That quote falls right in line with what Rose said prior to the Bulls’ trip to Boston—a trip that happened nearly a month ago.
“I really don’t know,” Rose said (per CSN Chicago’s Sam Aggrey). “I’m feeling good, but like I said, if it’s where it’s taking a long time and I’m still not feeling right, I don’t mind missing this year.”
On Valentine's Day, Rose still wasn’t dunking. That’s changed since then—in a very notable way, no less—but that hasn’t changed one thing: Rose still doesn’t feel comfortable playing on his knee.
And at this point, the sand is rapidly running out of this season's hourglass. The Bulls have 21 games—just over a quarter of their season—remaining on the schedule. It seems like a ton of time, but it's a millisecond for players returning from injury. It took Ricky Rubio 15 full games to start producing anywhere near his previous levels or get anything resembling starter’s minutes.
More notable: Iman Shumpert of the Knicks tore his ACL on the same day as Rose. He has been back in the lineup for the entire past quarter of the season. And though his effectiveness has waxed and waned, Shumpert seems to be nearing his pre-surgery athleticism—only after 20 games back.
That’s not to draw direct parallels. Every injury is different, and the Bulls have been exceedingly cautious with Rose. It’s possible that he’s already more healthy than Shumpert or Rubio was when they returned to the lineup.
That said, it’s apparent the final stages of Rose’s recovery have gone way slower than expected. And with the hourglass running out on recovery time, Rose’s lack of progress makes it rather obvious that the two sides are nearing a white-towel moment.
There is only one reason for Rose to return: internal or external pressure.
From the Bulls’ perspective, it’s pretty easy to see why they're in desperate need of a booster shot. They are 4-6 over their past 10 games, a downward spiral that’s taken them from fourth to sixth in the Eastern Conference heading into Thursday night’s action.
Understandably, the crux of Chicago’s recent skid has been a nosedive in offensive efficiency. The Bulls are averaging just 94.7 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, a rate that is nearly a point and a half worse than the anemic Wizards, per NBA.com.
In contrast, their overall defensive efficiency is up over that same span. All that tells us is something we’ve already known for months: Thibodeau can coach one doozy of a defense, but the Bulls’ long-term offensive efficiency lies in their point guard’s hands. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng can only carry you so far.
What’s more, the only way Chicago competes for a title this season is if Rose plays at ultimate peak form and LeBron James gets injured. That’s it. The Miami Heat are so head-and-shoulders above the rest of their Eastern Conference counterparts that it seems trite to think a less-than-100-percent Rose could remotely shift the paradigm.
As such, what is the team really losing if Rose avoids game action, sits through the regular season and spends the summer getting fully comfortable with his knee? A championship run and a few ticket sales?
Chicago wasn’t too worried about that when it allowed the “Bench Mob” to walk last summer, or when it shopped Richard Hamilton this season hoping to get under the luxury tax. The team has long given up its right to ask Rose for anything when it’s more concerned with the bottom line than championship contention.
And Rose? He literally loses nothing other than some stat-padding on his career totals. His team isn’t a championship contender, and he’s not a free agent anytime soon. There is no motivational ring or Brinks truck full of money in the offing.
Enough with the half measures and false hope. If Rose was actually nearing full health, a tentative return date would have been set by now. So let’s stop the vacillation and pull the plug on this conjecture—for everyone's sake.