Derrick Rose has been down this dark road before, and it's probably one that he wishes he didn't have to travel again.
Nonetheless, there's a good chance that he learned enough in his first rehabilitation from a serious injury to make his second a bit more manageable.
Working in his favor is the fact that he already knows the mental hurdles are as high as the physical ones. Internal doubts make reaching benchmarks like running, jumping and "basketball activities" doubly hard. And that's to say nothing of the external pressures that come into play.
He's keenly aware of all of those things.
When a franchise, corporate sponsors and an entire metropolitan city are all clamoring for a hasty return, it becomes nearly impossible to stay patient.
He knows that, too.
Rose understands that nothing is going to be easy. And that, as much as anything, could make comeback No. 2 less difficult than his first attempt.
It's probably best to start with the most obvious reason.
Rose has already lost a year to a significant knee injury. He's suffered the associated depths of despair, persevered through a grueling rehab process and successfully made it back onto the court at something very close to peak form.
Having the knowledge that he's already conquered a major injury should give him confidence in his ability to do it again.
Normal human beings would probably be asking themselves if another comeback was even worth the effort. After putting in months upon months of tireless work, having to start all over again would be a crushing blow.
But Rose isn't a normal human being; he's an elite professional athlete with competitive wiring that looks nothing like the circuitry you or I possess. The hell he went through last year isn't a deterrent to going through it again.
It's an opportunity to vanquish a familiar foe.
The nature of Rose's injury should lead to an easier road back.
A torn meniscus is no joke, but it certainly isn't as severe a setback as a torn ACL.
Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Rose said:
This year, it should be an easier process where I know what to do and I'm walking. … I'm able to bend my leg right now after surgery. With the ACL, I wasn't able to bend my leg until three or four months (into the process). So this process should be a lot smoother.
And Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com interviewed orthopedic surgeon Dr. Derek Ochiai, who said: "From a medical standpoint, yes, he could come back quicker."
It's more interesting to discuss the aspects of Rose's mindset that should make his second comeback easier than the first. But it's silly to look past the bare fact that this injury is simply less substantial.
One of the most damaging factors in Rose's comeback from injury last year was the immense pressure he felt from his team, fans and sponsors.
The Bulls didn't limit expectations as well as they should have, and as they struggled down the stretch, the public started to clamor for Rose's return. And as he continued to miss games well beyond the typical recovery window, there was plenty of skeptical discourse about his commitment to coming back.
Part of the collective impatience surrounding Rose's first return had to do with his constant presence in the media. It seemed like he was in front of a microphone every week, giving updates on his progress and dodging questions about a firm comeback date.
Another component was the ridiculous commercial blitz Adidas put together to herald his return. With television spots touting his imminent comeback (and selling shoes, of course), everyone got a little too hyped up.
This time, the Bulls immediately ruled him out for the entire season, removing any questions about a return date. And we haven't yet seen any cooked-up inspirational messages from Rose's shoe company.
As long as Rose stays out of the media as much as possible—and Adidas lays off the dramatics—he should be able to work with more focus and less pressure than he did last time around.
It's something of a cliche to mention Rose's rough upbringing as evidence of his toughness. I'm not sure it's reasonable to attribute his hard-charging playing style to the difficulties he faced coming up in Englewood.
But it does make sense to credit Rose with a general sturdiness that derives from his childhood. He's been through a lot in his life, and the way he fought through his first rehabilitation effort only emphasized the fact that he knows the difference between genuine, real-life hardship and simple inconveniences.
Rose told Johnson: "The hard part that I had to go through in life, period, is living in poverty and not being able to get what I want."
Making it out of his neighborhood was tough. Coming back from another injury isn't quite on the same level. That perspective should keep Rose in the right frame of mind as he tries to come back a second time.
Not pictured: doves.
Over the past three seasons, the Bulls have been a good team without Rose but a championship contender with him. So when he was working to return after his ACL injury, he was doing so with the pressure of being the missing piece to a title-winning puzzle weighing on him.
The Bulls aren't going to be that same team when Rose rejoins them next season.
With Luol Deng slated to hit free agency and Carlos Boozer's hefty contract making him a prime candidate to end up elsewhere, the Bulls are going to head into the 2014 offseason in a state of transition.
Maybe they'll reload in a way that puts them right back at the cusp of contention, but for now, Rose can work his way back without the knowledge that he's necessary to push his team over the top.
Of course, if Chicago winds up with a decent playoff seed this year, and Rose gets healthy in time to suit up for the postseason, you can forget this argument. In the short term, it's still possible for the "savior narrative" to complicate his comeback.
In the big picture, though, Rose isn't a representative of salvation anymore. And in a backward way, that should make things easier on him.
Last year, Rose was a man apart. He toiled alone, going through individual workouts and working with trainers while his team did battle on the hardwood.
That won't be the case this year, and the added camaraderie should go a long way toward helping Rose feel like he's part of a team.
Unlike the initial period following his ACL surgery, Rose will rejoin his teammates, including traveling to road games, in the near future. Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose soon will be sitting on the bench during games.
"Mentally, he's very involved," Thibodeau said.
The Bulls players all supported Rose throughout his trials last season. But he was away from the team during the early stages of his rehabilitation, a separation that would have made it more difficult for him to feel the good vibes coming from teammates.
Being around the Bulls might be a little bittersweet at first—Rose surely would prefer to be helping rather than watching—but it'll ultimately be a big help as he works to come back again.
Per Johnson, when Rose was presented with concerns about his troublesome vulnerability to injury and questions about his chances to make it back to full strength, he said, "You can be a fool if you want to."
Most reasonable people would contend that questioning the durability of a player who had just suffered his second major injury in a relatively short span of time is far from foolish. It's a legitimate query, given the facts.
But Rose doesn't care about the facts. He cares about proving people wrong. He's using a mental approach that so many great athletes share: the ability to use doubt as motivational fuel.
The whole "nobody believes in me" mantra is tired. But it sure seems to be effective. Every team and player clings to the notion at some point, probably because it leads to a "me against the world" mentality that is conducive to laser focus and total commitment.
Rose is already showing signs of channeling doubt into valuable motivation. His response to Johnson is clear evidence of that.
So, it stands to reason that because there's even more doubt surrounding Rose's second comeback, he'll have a greater resolve to prove those naysayers wrong.