Superstar PG Derrick Rose appears likely to continue sitting out for the Eastern Conference's No. 5 seed, but the Bulls have wisely not dismissed the possibility that their best player will return for the postseason.
In spite of that long layoff, teammates are not giving up on their 24-year-old franchise cornerstone.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier in the week that Joakim Noah has maintained that Rose will take the hardwood throughout the year.
Cowley's report also logged quotes from head coach Tom Thibodeau, who highlighted the importance of Rose and gave a vague answer as to whether the postseason could be the site of Rose's return:
It could be...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.
...Whenever he’s ready, we’re going to welcome him back because, obviously, he adds a lot to the team...Again, [Rose is] the type of player that makes everybody better...
Another noteworthy nugget was provided by small forward Jimmy Butler, who when asked if Rose would make an unexpected comeback, simply replied, "I don't know." However, Cowley noted that Butler flashed a wide smile afterwards, and in that context, seemed to leave the possibility open.
Hoopsworld.com's Alex Kennedy documented PF Carlos Boozer's comments on the matter:
Are the Bulls holding out hope that Derrick Rose can come back? "Absolutely," Carlos Boozer said. "He makes that big of a difference."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 16, 2013
Especially since Rose has been cleared to play since March 9 and still hasn't participated in a game in 2012-13, his recovery from the devastating knee injury has been polarizing.
What was apparently holding Rose back from participating in a game was his ability to confidently dunk off his left foot. More than a month has passed since that point, and Rose continues to practice and go through pregame warmups.
Any salty feelings Bulls fans have toward him, though, would be remedied if he were to take the court in the postseason. NBA title shots aren't ever a guarantee, and Chicago has shown serious grit and toughness in persevering through injuries and playing stout defense to reach this point.
Thibodeau mentioned the impact that Noah has had even in limited minutes against the Orlando Magic, per Cowley's report, and how it helped the team's ball movement immensely.
How far could the Bulls advance without Derrick Rose in the NBA playoffs?
After all, Rose is the point guard and the primary catalyst for Chicago's offense. The Bulls averaged the second-fewest points per game in the regular season and could desperately use a big-time scorer to turn to in the hopes of getting by the Miami Heat, New York Knicks—or even the Nets.
Even giving Brooklyn the hint that Rose may not be done for the year gives the home favorites something scary to think about in addition to Thibodeau's tenacious defense.
In a series in which the Bulls will be underdogs, this is a savvy move—even if Rose ultimately doesn't make it back. Chicago may get by Round 1 without its biggest star, but for a legitimate shot at reaching pro basketball's pinnacle, Rose must be in the fold.