Derrick Rose picked up an honorary degree in Risk Management last season, deciding not to gamble his future just to satisfy the present.
As critics called for his return to the floor, the Chicago Bulls’ superstar cautiously sat out the entirety of last season while recovering from knee surgery—even opting to miss the playoffs by his own volition despite doctors clearing him to play in March.
Rose was patient even within a professional sports culture that clamors for the toughness of a Michael Jordan flu game or a Willis Reed comeback. But his stalling came with a price, and now the time has come when there are no more excuses.
Rose better deliver, or else everyone will see last season’s waiting game as a farce. Or else Chicago will remain stale as a runner-up rather than a contender. Or else his legacy will quickly turn from superstar to damaged goods.
The NBA culture rarely sees gray in a black-and-white field of opinion: He’s either the Rose we remember, or he is not.
No more talking about it. It’s time to show it.
A bright red bull's-eye circles October 5, the Bulls’ first preseason game. In just less than two months, Rose must meet the heavy expectations that were born from his decision to sit out all last season.
"Me saying it is something totally different," Rose said, according to Adi Joseph of USA Today. "Me going on the court and showing them will let them know it was the right decision."
The 24-year-old former Most Valuable Player must return to the court with the same regal energy that once enamored basketball fans. He must be the same top-tier talent who once accelerated past defenders and sliced his way to the cup.
Is it fair to expect that he’ll return to 100 percent by the time the season starts?
Well, yes. But only because Rose built high expectations for this coming season. He shook his head at demands to return last season for the purpose of coming back in 2013-14 at full strength. Then he added an exclamation mark by recently calling himself the best player in the NBA:
That's a fantastic sign for Bulls fans that Rose remains confident in his game following ACL surgery, but returning as one of the elite players in basketball won’t be easy.
There are still questions of how his knee will respond to live NBA play, and Rose’s unique abilities are difficult to restore. The severe torque that twists through his legs makes him both explosive and vulnerable to another knee injury.
What made him the league’s MVP also made for a tough recovery process, and he needs to prove that he’s capable of returning to his prior statistics:
|2010-11 MVP Season (81 games)||25.0||44.5%||7.7||4.1|
2011-12 (played 39 games in lockout-shortened season due to various injuries before tearing his ACL)
Rose doesn’t need to duplicate his MVP benchmark, but he should re-emerge as one of the league’s elite guards.
To meet expectations, Rose will need to return to scoring more than 20 points per game at a shooting percentage around the mid-40s. As a top-tier point guard, Rose should also average more than six assists per game while leading the Bulls to a top-four playoff spot in the East.
If he accomplishes that, the labels of "soft" and "selfish" will be forgotten, and Rose will slip back into his role as an unquestioned superstar.
The leash is short, though, and anything less than All-Star-caliber play can be deemed as a step backward.