Derrick Rose returns to the court after a knee injury sidelined him for 17 months.
Rose and the Bulls are hoping that he returns from the injury with enough gusto and firepower to help Chicago rise to prominence in the NBA Eastern Conference. A healthy Rose could be exactly what they need.
There is little questioning what Rose means to the Bulls franchise. He could have been the difference maker last season had he been healthy. Rumors fueled the story and yet the Bulls were forced to push on last year without him.
After an impressive preseason debut, Rose has now taken the first step in helping Chicago make it even further and proving his doubters wrong.
A quick start to Rose's season will be a critical element in ensuring the Bulls' success in the Central Division. With Indiana being the only realistic competition within the division that Chicago will have to face, Rose could play a critical role much like the one he had during his 2010-11 MVP season.
Derrick Rose Looks Sharp in a Return That Should Silence Any Doubters http://t.co/PuidgQ2M5f— Derrick Rose Hub (@DerrickRoseHub) October 7, 2013
That year, Chicago boasted a 62-20 record and dominated the division making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Of course, the Bulls are still looking up at the Miami Heat as the perennial favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. It is safe to assume that without Rose, Chicago would have no chance. With him, there is at least a shot.
During last season's Eastern Conference Semifinals, Rose's absence was sorely felt—a fact argued by ESPN's Jon Greenberg.
Despite their seven-game series victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, Chicago fell flat against Miami and lost in five games. Rose could have made a difference at least.
Now, Rose and the Bulls will have a chance to test their mettle in Miami during their season opener.
Yet Rose's impact will be felt beyond that of what he can do on the court. As argued by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Rose is the one player that can help mend a Bulls team that is showing signs of fracture atop the organization. Wojnarowski writes:
Rose changes everything in the Eastern Conference, but most of all he needs his transcendent talent to impact the fabric of this franchise. As the Chicago Bulls threaten to come undone at the organization's highest levels, Rose remains the reminder for everyone to find a way to make this franchise functional and free of discord.
A hot start to the 2013-14 season will provide further motivation for Chicago to continue on an upward swing. He is a player to rally around and the Bulls know that. Hopefully for their sake, Rose can turn the situation into something positive.
"Derrick Rose Gained 5 Inches of Vertical During Injury Rehab. Went from 37 to 42 inch vertical" -- scary— Kyle Inman (@DrHoopenstein) October 7, 2013
He will have to surely shake off some rust. However Rose is returning as healthy as ever, so he states, and that bodes well for the Bulls looking forward. After his debut, Rose commented:
It feels great. I'm not sore or anything. My leg's good. Just trying to stay focused and trying to take it one day at a time. No soreness at all. After the game it felt like I hadn't even played so I guess that's a good sign.
That is a good sign for Rose and Chicago.
How critical is Rose's return to the start of Chicago's season?
Of course there will be those who question the return and wonder if Rose may be in jeopardy of another injury.
A quick start would put an end to that discussion. It would also fuel the discussion that Chicago is for real this season and may have what it takes to compete with Miami within the conference. Rose is that special of a player.
Plenty remains to be seen, yet the significance of a healthy Rose cannot be understated. A dominant start is also critical. It is a long season, yet the first steps are being taken and Rose has all the potential to ensure those steps carry the Bulls deep this year.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.