Derrick Rose hopes his critics are hungry, because he plans on stuffing their mouths with hefty helpings of defiance.
While unveiling the Adidas D Rose 5, the Chicago Bulls point guard was his usual confident, unflappable, non-believers-can-bite-me self, per SLAM:
UPDATE: Tuesday, July 29, at 10:45 a.m. ET
Rose spoke even more defiantly on Monday in Las Vegas, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley:
Hell, yeah, it’s even more. I’m a special player. I still have youth. I’m only 25, man. Just doing everything I’m supposed to do in rehab. Just strengthening everything, taking it one day at a time and getting the most out of every day. I’ve been preparing for this moment.
I can’t get mad at [the criticism]. People are going to say anything. For me, just try to take it in and use it when I work out, use it as motivation. Go out there and try to prove people wrong. I know how special I am as a player. And I know what I still can do.
Well, now. It's almost like Rose isn't one to doubt himself or something.
Rejecting unsavory expectations has become a ritual for the 25-year-old who has appeared in just 50 games—regular season and playoffs—since 2011-12. Last fall, when he was still working his way back from an ACL injury, talk centered on him being better than ever.
Ten 2013-14 appearances weren't enough to prove himself better than before, but the spirit of his return is identical this time around. Rose doesn't view himself as a liability or even injury-prone. He's an elite point guard on the precipice of distancing himself from a protracted string of bad luck in his mind.
The Bulls can only hope his matter-of-fact bravado holds merit.
Making significant roster upgrades—signing Pau Gasol and drafting Doug McDermott, for starters—isn't enough. The Bulls, like Pippen Ain't Easy's Daniel Attias makes clear, still need Rose to be Rose if they're to contend for an NBA title:
After a torn ACL and meniscus in consecutive seasons, numerous doubts have surfaced regarding the possibility that the former MVP ever regains the same explosive form of 2010-11 but it’s not that level of play that Chicago needs to succeed. What they do need, however, is for Rose to be a consistent performer and to stay healthy. His ability to get into the lane will be paramount to the Bulls chances next season and the team’s newest signings will be the ones who could benefit mostly from it.
Coach Tom Thibodeau and his throng of resilient troops are more than capable of surviving without Rose. Adding an accomplished performer and two-time champion like Gasol only takes pressure off the floor general's return.
But Rose isn't an on-court accessory.
If he goes down again, the Bulls will have to move forward knowing he'll never be the same. Until his body proves otherwise, though, their title hopes are still firmly fixed to his performance and health, the first of which isn't too much of an issue.
Ability has never been Rose's problem. During his brief 10-game return, he was rusty, but there were traces of explosion and a willingness to adapt his game to any potential physical limitations.
Availability remains Rose's greatest obstacle. When he's healthy and playing without restrictions, he's still a superstar—the same superstar who won league MVP in 2010-11. It's all about getting him back to that point, where constraints aren't being placed upon his availability.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski—who will oversee Rose as he (hopefully) participates in this summer's World Cup—thinks he's already there, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears:
He was our starting guard in 2010. I met with him a little bit yesterday. I know he's excited about being here. Physically, he's good. It's just a matter of how quickly you regain the instincts to compete and play at this level.
He says he's ready to go. I haven't seen him play. These next few days I will see the new guys, see Derrick. We put in part of our foundation for this system, but we have to give them the opportunity to play. The Select Team gives us an opportunity to compete and play more than just practice against each other.
How many games will Derrick Rose play for the Bulls in 2014-15?
No matter how ready Rose says he is, regaining his previous form—and possibly exceeding it—is going to take time and patience. He won't shut his critics up overnight.
It will take more than a year of sustained execution that shows Rose is still Rose, his contributions just as reliable, his future just as bright.
In the meantime, he can start the hater-hushing stepping stone by stepping stone, performance by performance, forcibly fed word by forcibly fed word.