The Chicago Bulls play game No. 82 of the regular season Wednesday night. They have qualified for the playoffs even though star point guard Derrick Rose hasn't played a single minute. That lack of action in a low-pressure environment makes a postseason comeback very risky.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times passed along comments from Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who said Rose wasn't ready to return for the regular-season finale. He didn't rule out a return once the playoffs got underway, though.
With growing hope expressed from his teammates the last few days that Derrick Rose could still step on the court for the start of the playoffs, Thibodeau continued to keep that possibility going.
"It could be," Thibodeau said, when asked if there was a chance Rose could play. "He’s still not ready. We feel good about the guys we do have and we just want to keep improving and let Derrick handle his rehab and just be ready for whoever we’re facing."
The gut reaction is to think the Bulls should welcome Rose back with open arms the second he declares himself fit to return. While his presence would definitely provide an immediate boost, the long-term implications must be considered.
Throwing a franchise player into the heat of a playoff series after missing an entire year of action is a gamble. And the amount of risk would only continue to increase in direct proportion with the number of minutes Rose plays.
For the most part, that's because the level of intensity in the postseason is completely different than the regular season. The difference between returning in the opening round and in a random regular-season game over the past couple months is enormous.
And, if the Bulls have any chance to advance with Rose logging key minutes, they would need him to produce at an All-Star level. It's not like they can attempt to hide him on the floor like a winger scorer.
Should he return, he would likely be expected to run the point like normal, and that would put a lot of stress on a body that's still working its way back into game shape.
Should the Bulls let Rose play if he says he's ready?
Chicago has to be realistic before letting Rose back on the court. If it truly believes the title is within reach, then there's at least some reason to let its biggest star return. In reality, however, the Bulls are extreme long shots even with him.
The Miami Heat have solidified their status as heavy favorites, with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers making up the second tier in the Eastern Conference. It would be tough for the Bulls to navigate through at least two of those teams to a title.
Letting Rose go all out in an attempt to do so puts him at risk for a setback, and then it's anybody's guess as to his status for the start of next season and beyond. It becomes a slippery slope of danger once he steps on the court and tries to play a postseason basketball game.
They are better off leaving him on the sidelines until the playoff run ends. Then they can start gearing up for a serious run next season, when he'll hopefully be back to full strength.
There are simply too many risks involved with him coming back in a playoff atmosphere after so much time away.