Derrick Rose has a decision to make.
Stoic and determined as ever, the Chicago Bulls point guard could maintain there is no dilemma at hand. He would be wrong. He has officially reached another crossroads: Should he remain a part of Team USA's FIBA World Cup roster, or should he bow out, protect his knees and focus only on the 2014-15 season?
This decision, despite all the relevant ramifications that will follow, is not a difficult one to make. Not with all Rose knows.
Not with all that's at stake.
The explosive point man has been sidelined with what Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times says is "general body fatigue" since Team USA's victory over Brazil at the United Center in Chicago on Saturday night. He was a late scratch for the squad's exhibition game against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night—which Team USA dominated, winning 105-62—as well.
Afterward, Rose reiterated his party lines, cautioning the general public against panic and the formation of slipshod conclusions.
"It’s just body fatigue," he told reporters, per Cowley.
Pressed further, he still wouldn't blame his knees or attribute his extended stay on the sidelines to one or both of the season-ending surgeries he's had since 2012.
"No, not the knees," he said. "You don't got to worry about that."
Perhaps reporters don't; Rose and Bulls fans do.
A source told ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell (via ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Mike Mazzeo) that Rose has been experiencing "knee soreness" since that scrimmage against Brazil, during which he went for seven points, two assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes of action.
Both Rose and team officials continue to downplay the floor general's situation because, well, there isn't necessarily anything to play up. Discomfort is normal during surgical recovery. Aches are common. Pain isn't atypical nor is it a harbinger of impending doom.
"You cannot push all the way back from knee surgery without having pain," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin writes. "Does not happen. It’s not even supposed to happen."
That the twinges of pain Rose is experiencing should be perfectly normal is encouraging, and it should, to some degree, ease concerns of the Bulls and their fans. But does that give Rose license to remain on Team USA, risking further aggravation and injury?
Cowley's colleague, Rick Telander, doesn't think so:
OK, Derrick, just stop.
Quit Team USA and call it a day.
Or a week. Or whatever.
Rest your right knee. Rest your left knee. Rest everything. Have yourself cryogenically frozen and then thawed in two months, ready to play NBA basketball.
That's when the regular season starts, and that's all we really care about.
Indeed, the regular season should take priority.
Parroting optimism through Team USA roster tryouts and scrimmages doesn't mean Rose has returned. Quite frankly, he hasn't. Nothing about his Team USA performance—however poor or positive—means anything.
The 82-game-long regular season is a different animal. Competition is different. Rotations are different. Most importantly, the stakes are different.
As in higher.
Rose isn't being paid $60 million-plus by Chicago over the next three years to represent his country at the World Cup. The Bulls are paying him that money—they handed him that $94.8 million extension in 2011—to be the face of their franchise and the foundation on which they would build championship teams.
Ahead of Team USA, Rose's loyalty must lie there, in Chicago, where the Bulls need him to win games that matter. And with the most talented roster of the Tom Thibodeau era in place, there will be plenty of games that matter.
None of which suggests Team USA's cause is pointless. It's just useless for Rose's purposes—though The New York Times' Harvey Araton argues otherwise:
So consider it a no-lose proposition for Rose—he can shake off rust, re-establish a rhythm, get comfortable with an altered N.B.A. role and reality—unless fate deals him another blow. It could happen. He could get hurt. But so could James Harden, Kyrie Irving or Anthony Davis. A meteor could also fall on the team bus.
All good points, assuming, of course, this is actually a "no-lose proposition" Rose is facing.
Which it's not.
Parallels cannot be drawn between Rose's injuries and the well-being of other NBA superstars. It's true that anyone could get hurt (see Paul George). But it's also true that Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and James Harden—as well as everyone else vying for a Team USA roster spot—haven't missed 203 of a possible 253 combined regular-season and playoff contests since 2010-11.
When you've missed more than 80 percent of your team's games over the last three seasons, and when you're already suffering from pangs of pain, the bubble wrap and caution tape must come out.
Focus on your job—your real job. Prepare to fight for the team that actually needs you. Even after losing Kevin Durant and George, Team USA is not that team. It has enough firepower, enough point guards without Rose. It's there in the ease with which they've manhandled recent international competition.
Losing Rose wouldn't be a death knell of any kind. For Rose and the Bulls—and the NBA in general—it would be a relief, a blessing. For Team USA, it would be an obstacle that players such as Stephen Curry and Irving allow them to clear.
"Just trying to protect myself, just knowing that this is a long, long schedule and this is the most basketball I'll be playing in two years," Rose said, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). "I want to be out there, but at the same time, my health is the No. 1 issue right now."
Health being the No. 1 issue makes this a no-brainer: Rose needs to leave Team USA behind so he can move forward. And if he won't make the necessary decision, coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Thibodeau must make it for him, using forthcoming cuts to hand-deliver a lifeline Rose should be seizing himself.
*Salary information via ShamSports.