Derrick Rose is going to return...eventually.
That's what we've heard all year from the Chicago Bulls, and it's what we still continue to hear now. Even when head coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose probably wouldn't make an appearance during the NBA playoffs, he left the door open for the former league MVP to return.
"He's most likely out but you never know," Thibs said (via Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com).
Great. Grand. Wonderful. Thank you for perpetuating what is an already revolving door of ambiguity. Can't the team or Rose just tell us when he's going to return already?
No, they can't. Rose is cleared to play, but he's not "mentally" ready. Which should be good enough. His team stands behind him, so the rest of us should as well.
But at what point is that not really "good enough?" We've entered the postseason and patience is dwindling amongst fans. You know we've reached Defcon 5 when there is a nut-job who intends to sue the point guard over his absence.
No matter what Rose, his coach, teammates, the fanbase or any maladjusted patrons say, though, there's a case to be made on both sides of the fence—contemptible lawsuits not included.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
Seriously, did you see the Bulls' first game in their opening-round series against the Brooklyn Nets?
It stung. Badly. Like a wasp on steroids.
Brooklyn sent Chicago back to its hotel with a 106-89 loss, in what was an essential beat-down from start to finish.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez torched the Bulls in the paint, where Chicago was especially vulnerable, since Joakim Noah was limited to just over 13 minutes as he continues to play through a foot injury.
Seeing Williams go for 22 points, seven assists and three steals was especially tormenting. It reminded the Bulls what a team can be capable of when its All-Star point guard is running the show.
Sans Rose, the Nets (and every other team the Bulls would face in the postseason) are free to target Luol Deng, who shot just 3-of-11 from the field. Every team in the league will live with Carlos Boozer going for 25 points. It's Deng they're concerned about.
But that could be Rose. He can navigate the intricacies of double-teams. He can score or create for his teammates when defenses zone in on him. Deng can't. Not like Rose, anyway.
Without Rose, Nate Robinson is really the only member of this outfit who can create his own shot.
Rose would change things. He makes the Bulls better. And after watching their abomination of a performance against the Nets to open the playoffs, it's clear they're in need of getting better.
Can Derrick Rose really shift the entire postseason narrative for these Bulls?
There's no doubt they would have benefited from his presence to open the playoffs, but that's only if it was a fully healthy Rose playing. Rose hasn't played in over a year. The odds of him returning to his dominant self immediately are slim.
No amount of simulation can account for the real thing. The pace is different. The audience is different. Everything is different.
Admitting that Rose could actually hurt Chicago seems absurd, but if he returns and can't perform at a high level, what good can come from that? The Bulls will be left to compensate for his deficiencies, adding yet another dilemma to their already heaping pile of problems.
Rose is young, so the belief is that he'll regain his old form. He's also human. Look at how other guards fared after coming back from a similar injury. Youngsters like Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert, and even Eric Gordon, struggled in the early going. And in some regard, they are/were still struggling (Gordon, especially).
They're not Rose. I get it. He could be the exception.
Which is true. But consider this: He has yet to be the exception throughout this whole process, so why would that change now? He's still on the bench, while some have already returned.
Therefore, nothing about an imminent comeback guarantees much of anything for the Bulls.
The Bulls are in need of healthy bodies. Like now.
Joakim Noah, who is arguably Chicago's second-best player, is battling through a foot injury. He managed to log just over 13 minutes to start the playoffs and missed four of the Bulls' six final regular-season games.
Rose can't provide size, and he isn't known for his defense, but he's an extra body. And a talented one at that.
To believe that he would completely erase the disadvantage the Bulls are at with a limited Noah is naive, but Chicago is far better off with a restricted Noah and an active Rose than it is now, with the point man on the bench.
Let's also not neglect to mention that some animosity could be brewing within the fanbase. Here is Noah, injured beyond comprehension, attempting to play through whatever pain he's in because he knows the Bulls are better with him.
Joakim Noah will try to play tonight. "I can't miss this. We fought too hard to get to this point. ... I just want to be a part of it."
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 21, 2013
Why can't Rose do the same? Why can't he put on his mental armor and suck it up?
These are the playoffs. There is no time for rest. Just ask Noah. Or Luol Deng. Or Taj Gibson. Hell, go ahead and ask Richard Hamilton.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't lack a certain amount of conviction behind my previous argument. It had to be said, but even I don't fully believe it.
Because the only thing worse than watching the Bulls navigate the postseason without Rose is watching him crumble to the floor after reinjuring his knee.
Is that likely? No. But it's still possible.
If I were a Chicago fan, I'd rather have Rose take the extra rest and come back ready to play next season. Risking further injury isn't worth it. Jeopardizing you're mental psyche isn't worth it, either.
Remember, what Rose is going through is just as much psychological as it is physical. Should he come back before he's mentally ready and fail miserably, there's no telling what kind of impact this could have on the rest of his career.
What if he's never himself again because a poor playoff performance scarred him or damaged the tail end of his psychological rehabilitation? What will he have accomplished?
Nothing. And the Bulls would be far worse off than we now perceive them to be.
The Bulls were tied for dead last during the regular season in points scored per game (93.2), a mark that stands to cripple them against stronger defensive teams like, say, the Nets.
Of course, Chicago has always had its defense to fall back on, so this isn't a necessity.
Except it is. If Noah can't play more than just a few minutes a night (or at all), the Bulls are going to need a balanced attack to win games.
Defense alone won't cut it when your most talented defender is watching most of the game from the sideline. Rose adds plenty of offensive flair to the Bulls' otherwise limited offensive arsenal.
He's one of the few on the team who can create his own shot, and while Kirk Hinrich is an understated playmaker, he doesn't even come close to having the impact Rose did.
For the Noah-impaired Bulls to win anything at all, they're going to need to rediscover their offense.
After watching them all season, it's become clear they can't do that without Rose.
This is hardly good news for the Bulls as they are now constituted, and it's equally as troubling even with Derrick Rose on the floor.
Chicago split the season series against Miami, 2-2. Logic would dictate that the Bulls were then one piece short of tipping the entire matchup in their favor. And what better piece than Rose?
Only it's not that simple.
I hate to come back to Joakim Noah, but is Rose going to make the necessary difference when Noah (and some of his teammates) aren't fully healthy? Absolutely not.
The Bulls are not an able-bodied team. Luol Deng and Noah are especially banged up. Tom Thibodeau increased their minutes to help mask Rose's absence. Either of them could fall victim to fatigue at any given moment.
Or in Noah's case, fall victim to a foot injury.
From Rose's perspective then, not only is it safer to sit out the rest of the year, but it's arguably smarter. Wait to make your comeback until your team, like you, is completely healthy. Don't return to chase a championship that's probably out of reach anyway.
Don't make the mistake of trying to contend with the Heat when, really, you can't.