Chicago Bulls superstar point guard Derrick Rose recently proclaimed in an interview with CNN that he is the best player in the NBA right now. Many may disagree, but that type of confidence and plenty of time to nurse his way back to full health will result in a monster season in 2013-14.
However, the 24-year-old Rose has played in just one playoff game total over the past two seasons, because he tore his ACL in Game 1 of the 2012 postseason's opening round against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite the fact that Chicago was missing its only true source of explosive offense for the entirety of this past season, head coach Tom Thibodeau still guided his squad to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
That marked the unfortunate end to the Bulls' season, as they lost in five games to the eventual champion Heat.
All the way back in early March, Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago reported that Rose had been medically cleared to play, but he never returned to the lineup despite practicing with the team.
It really was a bizarre injury saga for Rose, but if he didn't truly believe he was the best player in the Association, he probably would not have tabbed those type of expectations on himself. There has to be at least some indication that he could elevate his game to another level.
There's no question in my mind that the time he spent on his body this past year was the best thing he's ever done because I think he's learned that, to compete in an NBA season and absorb the physical contact that he does, what he's done during this rehab has benefitted him greatly. I think it's going to make him better and stronger.
We're fortunate that we've got a kid who is still young and is dedicated to the job and wants to continue being a great player. I think he's going to come back bigger, stronger, better than ever.
Should anyone really be surprised by Paxson's ringing endorsement, and not just because Rose is the centerpiece for the franchise's future?
This is the same young man who was drafted No. 1 overall and was bold enough to wear that number on his jersey for a city and a specific team whose certain No. 23 in Michael Jordan happens to be the best player of all time.
The last player to win a league MVP other than James was Rose in 2011.
Given the time he's had to rehab—and consequently work relentlessly on his jump shot—Rose has all the potential in the world. Specifically, Rose told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! that he expects to return with much better three-point efficiency in his arsenal, along with an enhanced ability to go to and shoot with his left.
Players' careers are defined by the postseason. That was what defined Jordan's legacy, and it was what severely harmed the perception of James until he was able to get over the hump the past two seasons.
We have been robbed of the last two opportunities Rose could have had if healthy to start truly building his own legend.
It's nothing against James or his accomplishments, but he hasn't had to negotiate the Rose-led Bulls.
Now that Rose could have a far more lethal jumper, a stronger body and generally improved all aspects of his game, there isn't much to suggest the Bulls won't be extremely competitive for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Although he has been negotiating for an extension, this is the final year of Luol Deng's contract. The same goes for another key contributor in guard Kirk Hinrich. Power forward Carlos Boozer likely won't be productive for much longer, either.
GM Gar Forman did bring in athletic swingman Tony Snell with the team's first-round pick, along with stretch-4 Erik Murphy in the draft and sharpshooting free agent Mike Dunleavy to help spread the floor.
Having said that, the time is now for Rose to take a big leap forward and allow the Bulls to truly challenge the two-time defending champion Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy in 2013-14.
All the hype has been generated by Rose himself—between his response to the "best player" question, his apparent improvement in shooting ability and clear, bold confidence.
It's time for No. 1 to live up to it.