Derrick Rose's 'Mission' for Superstar Return Is Not Impossible

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Derrick Rose's 'Mission' for Superstar Return Is Not Impossible
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Don't let the rhapsodic waxing or compelling video clips fool you. Derrick Rose's road back to NBA royalty carries no guarantees of a hero's return.

Yes, by all accounts, he's shredding the competition at Team USA training camp. For his short- and long-term NBA future, all of that means...nothing really. Maybe it serves as a reminder of his tremendous talent, but most fans didn't need the memo.

For the former MVP, his battle is one in which victories cannot be awarded for days, weeks or even months of brilliance. He has proven he can play the superstar part, but his challenge is making that role a recurring one.

That means shedding more blood, sweat and tears than he's already given to the recovery process of undergoing two knee surgeries in as many years. It's refusing to let his career collapse into soul-wrenching questions of what he could have been. It's fighting every pain, every worry and every critic with the same unwavering spirit that has taken him this far.

It's physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. But it's absolutely possible.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There is no easy part of this process. One misstep could ruin everything he's worked to build, a fact he knows all too well.

Still, all he can do is make the most of the hand he's been dealt. He's worked to ensure that the actual performance isn't nearly as grueling as the preparation.

"Every day working my ass off, torturing my body every single day so [in] these little scrimmages, of course, my wind is the last thing I need," he told reporters. " ... I've been preparing for this for a long time."

Judging by the buzz he's created in Sin City, it was time extremely well-spent.

"He looks, to me, as good as when we had him the in the world championship in '10, when he was at full strength coming [into] an MVP year," Syracuse coach and Team USA assistant Jim Boeheim told ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. " ... He's been the most impressive guy here."

Lofty praise, isn't it?

Consider the talent surrounding him at the moment: reigning MVP Kevin Durant, three-point assassin Stephen Curry, rising swingman Paul Georgescoring savant James Harden and blossoming bigs like Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, among others.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Yet, it's Rosewho's played all of 10 games combined over the last two seasons—who is turning more heads than anyone else.

This hasn't happened by accident. As Rose's college coach John Calipari told Friedell, the prolific point guard has been plotting to remind the world just how dominant he can be.

Injuries, no one wants to go through that, but they do one of two things. They make you stronger or they break you down, and it's pretty obvious what it's done to him. ... I said (to him), 'You look great. Your explosiveness is even maybe beyond where it was, which is scary.' And I said, 'You're doing great.'

He said: 'I'm on a mission.'

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is that it's not remarkable at all. Not if this is the real Derrick Rose, and according to the floor general himself it is.

Just think about the last time the hoops world saw a healthy Rose. Not the part-time participant plagued by nagging injuries in 2011-12, but the one who became the youngest MVP in NBA history the season prior.

Do you remember how dominant that player was? It's OK if you don't, it's been a while. Just use the table below for a reminder.

How the Real Derrick Rose Earned MVP Honors in 2010-11
PPG APG PER WS
Statistic 25.0 7.7 23.5 13.1
Rank Seventh 10th Ninth Fifth

Basketball-Reference.com

Even those numbers fail to capture his individual brilliance.

That season, he guided the Chicago Bulls to an NBA-best 62 wins. The Bulls outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, which was the second-best net rating in the league. Chicago also led the league in defensive efficiency with a 97.4 defensive rating, while finishing tied for 12th at the opposite end (105.5 offensive rating).

Obviously, basketball is a team sport, and Rose wasn't the only one responsible for that performance. He was, however, one of only two players—along with Dirk Nowitzki—to help his team to more than 52 wins despite not having another All-Star on his roster.

When Rose is good, he's scary good. And as terrifying as this may sound, he might be better now than he was before.

"I'm a totally different player," he said. " ... I'm able to control my body a little bit more, using my speed more. Being smart with my speed, instead of just running wild out there and being smart, becoming a smarter player."

USA TODAY Sports

For the astute observers in the crowd, Rose's offseason may seem eerily reminiscent to the last one. When Rose was on his way back from his first major knee injury, the glowing praise surrounding his recovery process sounded a lot like what we're hearing now.

"I think he's all the way back and more," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said last October, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "You see he's still going to the hole strong, finishing with contact, hitting open J's, floaters, this, that. The complete package."

Rose himself told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports in March 2013 that he had been "working on his 3-pointer" and that he was "more confident in it now."

Yet, those visions of a three-point shooting, explosive-as-ever Rose never matched reality. Before a torn meniscus ended his 2013-14 run, he was averaging only 15.9 points on 35.4 percent shooting and 4.3 assists against 3.4 turnovers.

USA TODAY Sports

So, why might this story end any differently than the last one? Because this one carries a far more important development, one significant difference in Rose's return to the hardwood.

"That difference is Rose's patience, his maturity," wrote Bleacher Report's Dan Favale. "He doesn't appear to have this nagging desire to prove people wrong and regain his MVP form right away. He knows this is a process—one that's haunted by mystery and all the questions he doesn't and can't yet have answers for."

This comeback is about him and his journey. He's not promising a new and improved version of himself, nor using his critics to fuel him along—although he wouldn't mind seeing his detractors served up a heaping plate of crow.

He's trusting his talents and gaining a better understanding of how to utilize them. He's maturing both as a professional and a person. Considering the foundation with which he's working, he just might be better than ever.

As long as his body cooperates, he'll be back on the perennial All-Star list in no time. He's simply too talented to expect anything less.

Whether he'll have another MVP (or two or three) in his future, that will hinge on the players around him. Given the growth of Chicago's incumbents (Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson), plus the strength of its additions (Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott), the ingredients are in place for coach Tom Thibodeau to build a two-way power.

If the Bulls rejoin the elites, that will mean Rose has, too. Then, anything is possible: MVP honors, championship runs, anything.

People are right to shower praise on him and still reserve judgment on what lies ahead. His past justifies both actions.

As for his future, he's at the mercy of his body, but he's doing what he can to pursue the best possible outcome. He's making his mission possible.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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