Derrick Rose has had a very different season this year than in any other of his career. His perspective has been unique, as he has been simultaneously both a teammate and a spectator. Viewing the season through his eyes gives insight to both the team and the player.
The Offseason and Preseason, March 15, 2012 to October 30, 2013
During the offseason and preseason, Rose had one job to do, rehab, rehab, rehab. And by all accounts he attacked it with all the diligence that he’s attacked every offseason regimen. As a result, what he mainly saw was the training room.
He also saw he needed help. He saw the need for a healthier diet. He saw, and is seeing, tape—lots and lots of tape.
I'm a loner. I'm used to doing everything myself. For someone to help me out in a physical way, it was different. Helping me up out of the bed. That was something I could easily do. But everything changed then.
Rose has used the process to learn that sometimes it’s a good thing to rely on others. Perhaps the biggest weakness his game has had in the past is trying to do much, forcing things when his teammates might do better. Learning to know when he needs help could translate onto the court.
Furthermore, Rose learned to take care of himself during the rehabilitation process. It’s a wonder that Rose never missed a game with Skittle-Pox, but as Zillgitt points out,
Rose also is more cognizant of what he eats and drinks. A noted candy fiend, Rose eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at scheduled times with snacks in between. "But the right snacks," Rose said.
The Skittles, Fritos, Gummy Bears and sugar-laced drinks have been replaced with fruit, granola, water and protein shakes.
He’s also used the time to improve his grasp of the game. Rose says,
If anything, this is going to help me become a better player and become more efficient with my game," Rose said. "This is the most I've ever watched film or NBA basketball period with other teams. I always did everything off of basic instincts. Now, actually seeing all their games, it's going to help me. It's helped me learn the coaches, how every coach in the NBA coaches their system. Knowing play calls for certain teams.
Rose has used the rehab time to improve his diet, his fitness, his grasp of the game and his maturity. All of this is with the view to being a better player and helping the Bulls to be a better team.
The Difficult Start, October 31 to November 26
The Bulls, having added what is essentially a new bench, struggled at the outset of the season, starting 6-7. As they slumped, Rose continued with his rehab, hidden from the spotlight.
The question fans had was whether the Bulls could stay around .500 long enough for their MVP to come back and rescue the team’s playoff hopes, or whether the team should just abandon hope and play for a better draft pick.
For Rose, this must have been a din outside the locker room, noisy but distant. His world was not the team right now. He was watching the games on TV. He was around his teammates, and even helping them to the degree that he could. But only in the lockers.
Surely, it was difficult for him to watch his team struggle. Rose is a competitor like few in the league. So much so that he made his girlfriend and the mother of his son quit Monopoly.
It was most certainly difficult for Rose to watch the Bulls lose, knowing the kind of impact he could have on the team. But at the same time, his goal was what it needed to be—get healthy. He didn’t do as some feared, push himself too hard to come back too soon and cause a setback in the process. Rose’s involvement with the team was peripheral.
Rose continued to show a more mature version of himself, trusting patience over diligence. He chose to win the war, not the battle.
The Climb, November 28 to January 30
After the Bulls' discouraging start, they began to pull things together as the new bench players figured out Thibodeau’s system, Carlos Boozer started to play like he’d been signed to play two years prior, and Joakim Noah was shining like an All-Star.
Rose began to make appearances in the pregame shoot-around. It became a daily ritual to share the latest pictures of Rose taking jump shots. It was nothing new in terms of his rehab—he’d been shooting since August, but the media monster needed feeding, and he got fed. And the more he got fed, the hungrier he became.
The steady trickle of #thereturn videos weren’t helping either. The anticipation was palpable. With each passing day, internal fan countdowns were ticking away. Soon after the All-Star break, many thought, Rose would be back.
And the Bulls were playing, far, far better than expected. Perhaps the peak of the season came when the Bulls traveled to Miami to face the Heat, and not only won, but won decisively. For the first time, Rose traveled with this team.
This play, which Rose saw in the locker room, was the pinnacle of Chicago’s season.
The Bulls won a few more games. Genuine hope started to build in Chicago. On January 30 they were leading the Central Division, and were third in the Eastern Conference, only two-and-a-half games behind the Miami Heat.
If they were this good without Rose, how good could they be with his return drawing even closer? A slight clamor for his return began.
He wasn’t just shooting before games. He was practicing, then practicing with anticipated contact, then practicing with full contact, then practicing with full five-on-five scrimmages. Bulls fans groaned with anticipation.
Rose continued to be patient, though. He was no more beguiled by the promise of winning NBA titles than by watching while his team was beaten; he stayed the course of rehabilitation. He’d return when he was ready, whenever that might come.
Just when things were going well, they stated not going so well.
Two things happened simultaneously. First, the Bulls' schedule got a whole lot tougher. Second, Rose started to get a lot more company in the lockers as Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson all joined him with revolving injuries.
Every team has its breaking point, and the Bulls seemed to reach theirs, dropping games in big ways as they were blown out by the San Antonio Spurs twice, Oklahoma City Thunder once and the Miami Heat once.
Meanwhile the aforementioned media monster had grown in size to Godzillian proportions. Questions about when Rose would return were more pressing. Innuendo was being passed as fact. En lieu of the story of Rose’s return, the story of why he hadn’t returned began to gain traction.
Reading between the lines, which allows writers the ability to pass off fiction as fact, became the main method of information.
Reggie Rose, Derrick’s brother, stupidly fed it even more by suggesting that Derrick’s return wouldn’t happen this year because the Bulls hadn’t made a trade to obtain a superstar at the trade deadline.
Reggie put Derrick in an impossible situation, having to decide between whether he would throw his brother or his teammates under the bus. He chose to release a statement that makes a tweet look wordy instead.
"I have always felt that the Bulls organization's goals have been the same as mine and that is to bring another championship to this city," Derrick Rose said.
But the damage was done, and that insinuation coupled with the Bulls sudden struggles only added pressure for Rose to return to the court. Now some were speculating why he wasn’t returning. Was he really ready and opting out for the season? Was he quitting on the team?
He finally watched a game from the bench as the Bulls battled the Indiana Pacers, and lost. It didn’t mean he was closer though. He just remembered to bring a blazer.
Suddenly, Rose was getting something he’d never received before—criticism from Chicago. Sure, there were some national reporters who are still trying to re-argue the 2011 MVP award two years later, but that wasn’t an issue to Rose.
Local criticism was another matter, and part of it seemed to come from the feeling that the local press felt spurned by Rose, who had gone to the national media for his first major interview since his surgery. They’d honored the request to stay away, but felt that when he was ready to talk, it should have been to them.
The team’s internal frustration of losing, the insatiable appetite of the media monster, and the non-return have all culminated in a tail-spin from the Bulls who are hurling towards the earth as the season draws to a close.
Will Derrick Rose pilot them out or sit it out? The answer is the same as it’s always been, and what it should be. He will return when he’s ready, physically and mentally.
Viewing the Bulls season through Rose’s eyes may give us a rosy view of the future. Or it might not be.
We can hope that he’ll see something more than locker rooms and training rooms. We can hope that he’ll see the playoffs—on the court. We can hope.
But we can’t pressure. He’s learned the wisdom of patience. We should too.