It wasn't long ago that Derrick Rose sat atop the basketball world.
From there, his reign among the NBA elites faltered. A rash of injuries plagued him throughout the 2011-12 season, forcing him to miss 27 regular-season games, but that's nothing compared to what came next.
During the opening game of the 2012 playoffs, Rose tore his ACL, which caused him to miss the entire 2012-13 season. The constant "will he return, won't he return?" questions soon led to doubts about Rose's dedication and love for the game of basketball.
For Rose to reseize his claim as the NBA's most transcendent star, he needs to follow a simple four-step process: return to the court by opening night, unveil an improved jumper, avoid any crippling injuries and show off his personality.
Let's take a closer look at each of those four steps.
Return to the Court on Opening Night
First things first: Nearly 18 months to the day after tearing his ACL, Rose needs to be back on the court when the Bulls tip off the 2013-14 season against the Miami Heat on October 30.
More than that, it's imperative that he demonstrates no ill effects from the injury.
Despite rumblings that he'd return at some point during the 2012-13 season, Rose stuck to his guns. As he told USA Today in mid-February:
I don't have a set date. I'm not coming back until I'm 110 percent. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready.
A few days after speaking with USA Today, Rose echoed those thoughts to a larger group of reporters. The former MVP re-emphasized that he wouldn't return until his body felt ready, even if it meant missing the entire season, according to Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago.
I'm feeling good, but like I said, if it's where it's taking me a long time and I'm still not feeling right, I don't mind missing this year. I would love to [return]. I would love to. That's why I approached my rehab and my workout so hard. I'm trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible, but if I have anything lingering on, it's no point.
Team doctors reportedly cleared Rose to return from his injury in March 2013, according to Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago, but as we know now, that didn't matter. Rose didn't want to return until he felt confident dunking off his injured left leg, Isaacson reported.
That shouldn't be a concern by opening night. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg back in June that Rose "feels great":
He was practicing and he was good sometimes, but he also wasn't able to make the kinds of plays he likes to make. No one is more explosive and can change direction like him. He had to be capable of doing that.
That's what makes him so unique, how quick and explosive he is. He can jump sideways to avoid contact. He's always hopping around. That's a lot on your knee. You have to be comfortable doing that. He takes off and he doesn't take long to go from securing the ball to exploding and blowing by somebody.
Only one man knows whether he'll return by opening night, though, and that's Rose himself.
From the sound of things, he's right on track to do so. At an Adidas event in Madrid, Spain, Rose made his plans for 2013-14 clear, according to Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype:
I should be able to play in the first game. I know I'm anxious right now to play. My health is everything right now, it's 100 percent. But right now, the first game... I definitely will be playing it.
Unveil an Improved Jumper
Let's assume Rose does return on opening night sans any major complications. What's next?
He'll need to get back to reminding everyone just why he became the youngest MVP in league history.
Few players pack the combination of aggression and explosiveness that Rose possesses. It's what made him so dangerous at the height of his power in 2010-11.
However, NBA superstars can't just rest on their laurels if they hope to retain their place at the top of the game. Just look at LeBron James and his newly improved post game as evidence of that.
For Rose to push his way back into the NBA elite, he'll need to have improved his mid- and long-range shooting during his recovery time.
The one silver lining to his ACL tear? Set shooting was just about the only basketball-related activity Rose could partake in during the early stages of his recovery.
"He can only do three things," said former NBA point guard Tim Hardaway, who also tore the ACL in his left knee, to the Chicago Sun-Times in August 2012. "He can dribble—not run and dribble, just dribble walking up and down the court; he can shoot a bunch of free throws; and he can shoot a bunch of set shots like he’s playing H-O-R-S-E every day, all day."
Rose told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears in March 2013 that he felt "more confident" with his three-point shooting. An anonymous Bulls official echoed that sentiment to TheJournalTimes.com in April 2013, saying the point guard's perimeter shooting had "significantly improved."
If all this "improved shooting" talk isn't just hot air, it bodes well for Bulls fans.
Through the first four seasons of Rose's career, he's only a 31 percent shooter from three-point range. His mid-range game, while solid, could use some work, too.
He knocked down roughly 40 percent of his 670 two-point shot attempts from outside the paint during his MVP season, according to NBA.com/stats. If he could consistently knock down those mid- and long-range jumpers, he'd be even more of a nightmare to guard.
At that point, much like LeBron these past few seasons, matching up against Rose would be a pick-your-poison scenario. Guard him too closely and he'll blow right by you on the way to the basket; give him some space and he'll pull up to drain a shot right in your face.
Avoid Any Crippling Injuries
This one's big. If Rose sustains another major injury that forces him to miss a half season or more, he's going to get slapped with the dreaded "injury-prone" label.
Realistically, thanks to his "when will he return?" drama, it would take him years to shed that perception.
Before his season-erasing ACL injury, Rose battled through a litany of minor bangs and bruises during the 2011-12 season. As detailed by ESPN's Stephania Bell, a sprained left toe, back spasms, a groin strain and a sprained right ankle kept him sidelined for 27 regular-season games that year.
Some writers, such as SB Nation's Tom Ziller and Jason Whitlock of then-Fox Sports, have speculated about a potential connection between returning from each injury too early and overcompensation leading to the next one. Ziller also pointed out that the Bulls' team doctor, Brian Cole, doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to diagnosing the severity of players' injuries.
Granted, minor injuries like a sprained ankle or groin strain come with the territory of any physically strenuous activity. No one in his or her right mind could reasonably begrudge Rose for suffering such a setback, especially if it only sidelines him for a few games.
Another major injury, though, especially one to his knee? That would all but end any shot of him bouncing back to being the NBA's most transcendent star any time soon.
Show Off His Personality
If all goes well with Rose's on-court return, he'll only have one final hurdle to clear before challenging LeBron and Kevin Durant for the "most transcendent" title.
He'll need to make people fall in love with him again off the court, too.
This, more so than anything else, should come the easiest to D-Rose. Despite his reserved nature, he touts one of the more admirable personalities of any NBA megastar.
How many players, after all, shed tears while thanking their mother during their MVP speech?
It's Derrick's mom, Brenda, that reportedly deserves credit for helping her son keep a level head no matter how famous he may get.
"I would hit him upside it and bring him back down if he ever changed," she said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune back in May 2011.
Mrs. Rose's influence over her son's personality should only be seen as a positive. Humility can be a major asset for a superstar athlete, especially considering how increasingly uncommon it's become in recent years.
It's now on Adidas, who signed Rose to a "lifetime" $200 million contract back in February 2012, to remind NBA fans why they fell in love with him in the first place.
If those ads include Ken Jeong again, all the better.
KD and James Harden, among other stars, have done a phenomenal job in recent seasons building their off-the-court brands through advertisements. To complete Rose's transition back to the top of the NBA, Adidas will need to do the same for him.
Can It Happen?
Even if Rose does come back opening night without any medical complications, his return to the NBA elite won't be an overnight process.
For him to truly rise to the top, it's going to take months of reminding fans exactly what they missed while he sat out the 2012-13 season.
Rose has the ideal combination of on-court explosiveness and off-court humility to challenge James, the current holder of the "most transcendent" title. The two-time reigning MVP won't be Rose's only competition, however, with Durant, Chris Paul and others also looming.
Getting back on the court and making opponents look silly will be his easiest path to gaining back adoration from NBA fans, especially those outside of Chicago.
Don't be surprised to see a competitive fire lit under Rose this season like we've never seen before.