DEERFIELD – Derrick Rose’s long-awaited return is just about complete.
The former MVP point guard was back wearing his familiar uniform No. 1, looking ready to lead the Bulls back to contention in the Eastern Conference after sitting out a season after knee surgery.
He said Friday at the team’s media day he understands why fans were frustrated he didn’t return last season, but he had to be careful.
“Of course, I would want my favorite player to be back out there,” Rose said. “At the same time, I have to be selfish with the idea. The thought of me injuring myself again, I don’t want to put myself in that position. I just tried to stay far away from it and just think everything through and stay positive.”
One big concern for him was his ability to handle double teams, particularly in the playoffs. He never felt ready to face them.
His confidence is not an issue now, though. He has said he sees no reason why he can’t dominate again, and he has no regrets about the way he handled his recovery.
He’s expected to suit up for the first time at Indiana on Oct. 5, and general manager Gar Forman anticipates him playing in every preseason game.
That hinges on how Rose feels, and the same goes for his minutes once the season starts.
“I think with Derrick, it’ll remain fluid as we go,” Forman said. “I think it’s difficult at this point to look ahead and say where his minutes will be two weeks from now, four weeks from now, whatever time frame you want to put on it. I think it’s something that from a medical standpoint, from a front-office standpoint, from a coaching standpoint that we’ll evaluate day to day.”
Forman said he expects some “ups and downs as we go” but has little doubt Rose will overcome them. He also said the decision not to play last season “absolutely” was the right one.
Coach Tom Thibodeau called the criticism Rose absorbed unwarranted, saying he followed chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s orders by taking a cautious approach.
“You talk about a guy who’s as loyal as they come to his family, to his teammates, to our organization, to the city – he’s already done a lot and will continue to do a lot,” Thibodeau said. “That’s who he is.
“When I look at it, when I look back and I’ve been thinking about it, he followed Jerry’s orders exactly. Jerry made it very clear from the beginning as to how he wanted him to approach it: to be cautious, to be cautious, make sure you’re completely healthy. He told him he didn’t want him to come back until he was 100 percent, and that’s exactly what he did. And then, he got criticized for it.”
Rose tore the ACL in his left knee in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs against Philadelphia, sending the top-seeded Bulls toward a first-round exit. His recovery became a running soap opera, particularly after he started practicing with the team in midseason.
The Bulls never publicly ruled out a return by Rose, and as injuries and illnesses to teammates mounted, his image took a hit. If he dominates again, that would go a long way toward repairing it.
The Bulls are aiming high after winning 45 games and a playoff series last season. With Rose, they believe they can challenge Miami for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. After all, they captured the NBA’s top seed the last two seasons he played.
Although his health figures to be scrutinized, particularly in the early going, it’s not the only story line.
There’s Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis in his foot, an issue for him two of his past three seasons.
There’s Luol Deng, coming off a season that ended with him in the hospital after complications from a spinal tap to test for viral meningitis. He has an expiring contract and likely will hit the market at the end of the season.
“I just have to go out there and do what I’ve been doing, just play basketball,” he said. “We have a great opportunity ahead of us. Derrick is back. Everybody’s healthy. We love the makeup of the team. The potential is great.”
NOTES: The Bulls filled out their training camp roster on Friday, signing of free agents Patrick Christopher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Kalin Lucas, Dexter Pittman and D.J. White.