The Chicago Bulls' biggest preseason challenge figured to be avoiding distractions during their weekend trip to Brazil's Rio de Janeiro.
Unfortunately, they found one major distraction, and it's one that this franchise knows all too well.
Derrick Rose, Chicago's former MVP, who missed the entire 2012-13 season recovering from a torn ACL, was held out of the NBA's first game in South America. Even as chants of "Rose, Rose" rang out late in the Bulls' 83-81 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday, he didn't budge.
The reason for his absence? Soreness in his left knee, the same one that's cost him the last 16 months of his playing career.
Oh boy. Not again.
But it's far too early to start ringing the alarm. The team called the decision to hold him out precautionary, via ESPN.com.
Bulls executive John Paxson told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that absences like this were to be expected:
We never anticipated a straight line. He had a little soreness and we are being ultra-conservative because it's the third game of preseason...It's to early to press anything...It is minor knee soreness and we're going to let him work through this the next day or two. That's it.
After enduring a season of will-he-or-won't-he-return questions last season, Rose's fans (or critics rather) apparently cannot help themselves.
Knee soreness breeds fear, fear causes panic and somewhere along the way that panic becomes vitriolic attacks. Suddenly, Rose is a selfish softy, someone incapable of putting anything above his own demands.
It's as if the 25-year-old hasn't already poured four years of blood, sweat and tears into the organization. Like he hasn't delivered a pair of Central Division titles or an MVP award to a franchise that's been waiting for a transcendent star since Michael Jordan exited in 1998.
All of that hate for a team-directed, preseason DNP?
Like Rose told Johnson, he was ready to go if given the opportunity.
"I could've played, but the front office made the decision to sit me out," he said. "I can't complain about it. It's nothing huge. I know that I should be able to go next game."
For anyone to think that this is entirely Rose's decision is ludicrous.
He's under the constant watch of team physician Brian Cole, athletic trainer Fred Tedeschi and director of sports performance Jen Swanson—not to mention the coaching staff and executives that track his every move.
All of the voices in the know are calling this consistent with what we has been going through. It's a concern but nothing out of the ordinary for someone who has suffered an injury this severe.
It's easy to watch Rose take flight, something he's already done this preseason, and forget that he's still just a human being. But he needs rest and rehabilitation the same way all of us do—and yes, that process is far from over.
Rather than charting his preseason bench time, we'd be better off monitoring the preseason action he's allowed to undertake. The games where his explosion and his confidence look as strong as they ever have.
But that's sadly not our style.
Not in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional sports, where meanings are outrageously magnified (or simply manufactured) and all of us are certified physicians and psychologists.
But can we please do ourselves a favor here? Can we at least wait until the regular season before we make our diagnosis?