Derrick Rose isn't just another superstar representing his country at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
There's something riding on his upcoming performance, something that goes beyond the team's success in Spain.
Priority No. 1 will, of course, be staying healthy. The 25-year-old played in only 10 games through the last two seasons combined and in just 39 games during the 2011-12 campaign. Repeated injury issues have derailed one of the league's brightest young careers, all after Rose earned MVP honors for a brilliant 2010-11 season in which he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists.
Fears that Rose isn't out of the woods just yet will almost certainly persist.
As the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh (subscription required) notes:
There will be those who want Rose to rush home and cover himself in bubble wrap until October to avoid the same catastrophic fate that befell Paul George on Friday night. But a 25-year-old who has played only 49 games the past three seasons needs the reps, physically and psychologically, and can't spend the rest of his career fearing injury whenever a peer goes down—even gruesomely.
Indeed, this may be the perfect opportunity to get those reps.
"I think this is a good situation for him to come back in because of all the talent," Team USA assistant coach (and Chicago Bulls head coach) Tom Thibodeau explained, Per USA Today's Sam Amick. "He doesn't have to play a lot of minutes, find your way, get over that hurdle of the rust you have to shake off, and I think he's ready for this."
Rose seems to agree, telling reporters after his first practice with Team USA, "I'm really trying to make it. I sat out for two years. It's a chance for me to work on my whole body. Get my legs strong. Get my upper body strong. Just take advantage of it."
Though there's relatively minimal pressure on Rose to push himself this summer, he's been doing just that by all accounts.
"I think he's exceptional in every way," Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski raved to reporters after practices in Las Vegas. "He went right at it. The first defensive exchange in the camp, he was all over the ball handler, moving his feet, attacking him. There was a buzz right away because it was basically his saying, 'Look, I'm not just back. I'm back at a level that's elite.'"
Krzyzewski added, "Derrick was sensational the whole week. He really did that every day, how fast and strong and decisive he was. He really created an air of excitement for the team because we all were anxious to see who he was right now."
So much for Rose easing his way back into action.
While the former MVP seems determined to prove he's still plenty valuable, some folks back home in Chicago aren't sold on their superstar's FIBA participation—much less his heroics in practice. While the Bulls themselves officially support Rose's involvement, many fans will be holding their breaths.
The Chicago Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom went so far as to argue, "You have to be an idiot owner to let your players participate in international hoops. You have to be a stupid and selfish player to do it."
Writing in the wake of Paul George's season-ending broken leg, Rosenbloom added, "I don’t care if your country is calling. Hang up. Your NBA team pays you millions. That’s who you work for. Tell Uncle Sam and Coach K to find some college kids who aren’t the difference between an NBA championship and a waste of time."
It's probably premature to assume Rosenbloom speaks for the majority of Bulls fans, but he certainly has a point. NBA teams incur all the risk and none of the reward when it comes to their stars signing up for international play.
All the more risk when one of those stars is Derrick Rose.
As Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher contends, Rose's hard-nosed wiring makes him especially vulnerable to subjecting his body to punishment: "Let's face it: Rose will go all out because he can't help it. The Bulls simply have to hope he'll still be able to do the same when it matters for them."
There's been some hope that Rose will adjust his game, relying more on a contact-averse mid-range game to preserve his health. He wouldn't be alone in such an evolution.
The Washington Post's Thomas Johnson writes that, "You can point to a number of Springfield-bound guards—including [Dwyane] Wade—who adjusted the frequency of their rim raids for the sake of health."
He adds that, "Rose needs to learn from these examples if he wants to play into his 30s and, more immediately, lead the Bulls out of a wide-open Eastern Conference next year."
With Spain's FIBA competition preceding that march of the Bulls, Rose would assuage some concerns by learning that lesson sooner rather than later.
Johnson cites Chris Paul and Tony Parker as other examples of point guards who have adjusted their games in the interest of longevity. For Paul, the solution has been a can't-miss jumper. For Parker, the difference is largely in how he approaches his drives to the basket—"more probing than powerful, calculating than calamitous."
Now would be a fine time for Rose to try out some different, less-taxing tactics.
A little bit of experimentation wouldn't hurt, especially when there's no NBA title at stake. As Rose gears up for the season ahead, he may want think about transitioning his game toward a more sustainable style.
The worst thing Rose could do is obsess over proving himself. There will be a time and place for all that, and it's not in Spain—nor the practice courts of Vegas or Chicago.
And while there will be some temptation for Rose to elevate his game in absences of George and the recently departed Kevin Durant, Rose's response to that challenge must be measured. Taking on the world without a full arsenal of superstar firepower will be a collective endeavor, and it's not one Rose can accomplish alone.
This is, however, a golden opportunity for the still-young superstar—to return to rhythm, perhaps even to partially reinvent himself. It's also an opportunity without urgency.
The real prize is still months away.